Saturday, July 13, 2019

Confidence in Yehovah

Go through your trial of faith putting your confidence in Yehovah, and not on your common sense. In doing so you will put a lot of wealth into your heavenly bank account. The more you go through your trial of faith the wealthier you become in adding to your heavenly bank account, until you will go through difficulties smiling; and people will wonder where your wealth of trust comes from. It is a trial of faith - trust throughout.

The disposition we have that rules our natural lives is sinful; when Yehovah alters that disposition - carnal nature, we turn our natural life into spiritual life by a progressive process in our obedience to Yehovah. It takes a spiritual concentration on Yehovah to do this!

Whenever you are in doubt about a thing, push it to its logical conclusion; "Is this the kind of thing God's anointed one Jesus is after or the kind of thing the Adversary Satan is after?" As soon you have made your decision, act on it!

No one has a single motive unless one has been born from above. Jesus, God's anointed one, is the only one with a single motive, and when his spirit comes into us, the first thing he gives us is that single motive which is to glorify Yehovah in all we say and do.

Never compromise with the spirit of this world. When we are right with Yehovah we become contemptible in the eyes of those in the world. The system of this world is that which organizes itself without any consideration of God. We on the other hand have to stand absolutely true to Yehovah's instructions for us. Jesus teaches us to gain super-normal integrity; a likeness to our Father in heaven; the integrity he had when he walked through the wilderness of this world.

We are to be in the world but not of the world, and we can walk through the wilderness of this world knowing that "He who is in us is greater that he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).

Is our reasoning of trust - faith leading us to the practical outworking of our lives with a determined confidence in Yehovah?

Remember, the golden rule for understanding in spiritual matters is not intellect, but obedience. Spiritual darkness comes from a lack of obedience. Our great concern in this world is to put Yehovah first, and everything else second. Make a zealous concentration on Yehovah the main focus of your life. Matthew 6:33: .... seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Connection between the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer


But how is it then that we do not find this actually mentioned as an item of prayer? Or is it mentioned as an item of prayer? Well, to my mind and to my knowledge, no one has actually ever connected the Lord’s Prayer with the Beatitudes either. Yet, have you ever noticed how many items there are in the Lord’s Prayer? Nine items. Coincidence? No. You see, here we noticed, so far as I know no one has actually connected the fruit of the Spirit with the Beatitudes. And we saw there is a very intimate and internal connection between the two. But as I meditated and prayed about this thing I realized suddenly there was an internal connection - an integral connection - between the two. But as I meditated and prayed about this thing, I realized suddenly that there is an internal connection between the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, too.

Let us look at the connection. In some of the items, the connections are so obvious that it is amazing that no one, to my knowledge, has ever noticed it. For example, it says right there in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”. Had we understood the meaning, we would have immediately seen the connection with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Yet most people have thought of “daily bread” as the literal physical bread. Quite a mistake, of course! Those of you who have heard our exposition on the Lord’s Prayer would remember that we pointed out in that exposition (made some three years ago) that the bread that the Lord is talking about is not the physical bread but the bread of heaven. “I am the bread of life”, the Lord Jesus says. [Jonn 6: 3541 & 48] “Labor not for the bread that perishes but for the bread that endures to eternal life”, the Lord Jesus says in Jonn 6:27. Had we understood that point we would already have seen the internal connection between the Beatitudes with the Lord’s Prayer but we did not.

Take the last two which are so obvious. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What are the last two Beatitudes? The last two are precisely concerned with persecution for righteousness’ sake (which is where temptation comes from) and the last beatitude says, “And they shall say all manner of evil....” “Deliver us from evil....” There we would have seen the connection straightaway. But amazingly so far as I know no expositor that I have heard of has ever seen the connection and yet the connection seems to be staring at us all the time. This is precisely the point. The Lord Jesus makes the Beatitudes the subject for prayer there in what we call the Lord’s Prayer. It is the subject of prayer.

1) ADDRESSING HIM, “OUR FATHER” AND BEING POOR IN SPIRIT

Let us trace the connection on the points which seem to be less obvious. The first item says: “Our Father who art in heaven”. Our Father in heaven - do you see the connection with being poor in spirit? If you were somewhat more familiar with the Lord’s teaching, the connection would have clicked very quickly. How? Take for example Matthew 18:3. Maybe once you see it, the connection would click in your mind. What does Matthew 18:3 say? The Lord Jesus says here, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become....” Like what? “...like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What is the first beatitude? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” For whom is the kingdom of heaven? The Lord Jesus said that except you become like children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven, for of such are the kingdom of heaven. Of what? Of little children! Of such are the kingdom of heaven. So the poor in spirit are the little children - the spiritual children! What does it mean: spiritual children? Unless you become like a child, a nobody in this world, utterly dependent upon God as a child is dependent upon his father, you will in no way enter the kingdom of God. The connection is so clear. “Our Father” - only the poor in spirit, the people who have become like little children [call Him this]. The children are nobodies in this world. They possess nothing; they are nobodies. They are poor in the sense that though they may be heirs, as Paul says in Galatians, “Though the heir of all things, they are no better off than slaves so long as they are children”.

Children are people who have no status in this world. They are nobodies. “Unless,” the Lord said to His disciples, “you humble yourself and become the nobodies of this world” (like these little kids running around there that nobody looks at, nobody has any regard for because they are nobodies. They have achieved nothing; they have attained nothing), “unless you become like them, you will in no way enter the kingdom of God” - unless you become children, unless you can say, in the poverty of spirit, “My Father, I am dependent wholly on you. I am nothing. I have nothing. I am simply your child. Have regard for me.” The connection is so clear.

How is it that we missed the connection between the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer? “Our Father”! I think nobody can truly say “Our Father” except the person who is truly poor in spirit, who has become a child spiritually, a child in his spirit. In relation to God, he is simply a child dependent upon Him. What does your child do? If you do not go out and work, your child will starve to death because you child cannot earn a living. Your child has not the strength nor the knowledge nor the understanding to do anything. He cannot survive in this world. The child depends on the father so long as he is a child. That is where we stand in relation to God. We become His children. We have no spiritual self-confidence. We do not try to earn our salvation any more than a child can earn his living. He will starve to death.

My little girl often talks to me and I would ask her, “What would you do when you grow up?” Well, it is hard enough to think what job she could do at this stage. She cannot even sweep the floor properly. What can you do? What are you going to do to earn a living? A child has no means of survival in this world apart from the pity and compassion of grownups, especially the parents. There is no way to survive. In the same way we cannot survive spiritually. We are totally dependent upon God for our spiritual survival. Totally dependent! We have no other way. So only when we recognize our dependence [can we call Him Father]. Sometimes a child does not even realize his dependence. He thinks, “I can do it!” Just let him go ahead and try. You will see what he will do. He cannot do it and yet sometimes the child imagines it can. So when we realize our true state, our actual condition, and we become poor in spirit before God, then and only then can we say, “Our Father, who is in heaven....” The connection is so obvious, isn’t it? But obvious only when it is expounded. So now what about the other points? All the other points follow in the same way. In fact I can trace the connection through to so many places but our time will not avail for this.
I can show you, for example, that the Beatitudes can be found everywhere in Paul’s teaching. Paul’s teaching is simply saturated with every item of the Beatitudes which shows how much the Beatitudes were in Paul’s thinking. In fact his whole doctrine of salvation is based exactly on this basis of poverty of spirit - that we cannot save ourselves through the keeping of the law and through our own efforts, that we, like children, are completely dependent upon God. It is the Spirit of God (Paul says) that is sent into our hearts that enables us in our poverty of spirit to cry out, “Abba! Father!” [Galatians 4:6] This is the whole foundation of Paul’s theology. It is all based right there. Paul understood the Lord’s teaching so well and so perfectly. Everywhere, item by item of the Beatitudes, you will find throughout Paul’s teaching. In fact you can find it even in just one letter - in Paul’s biographical letter, Philippians, the letter that I call the biographical letter. You can find every item of the Beatitudes right in there. For example he speaks about having suffered the loss of all things. When you have suffered the loss of all things, you are poor. Paul counts them as rubbish. There is the poverty of spirit! He regards all these things as not dear to himself that he may have Christ.

2) HALLOWING HIS NAME AND BEING PURE IN HEART

Well, let us look at the second connection. Here I notice a transposition, a change of order, and this is quite important. The second item here is holy, “Hallowed be Thy name.” When I compared this to the Beatitudes, I found that the only one that is likely to fit in with it is the item “pure in heart”. Who is pure in heart but he who seeks to hallow God’s name, to make God’s name holy both in my life and in the life of others, that God’s name is exalted and glorified. The pure in heart! Now we will see a reason for this. This is the only one of the later items in the Lord’s Prayer in which you find this kind of transference: the sixth item (“pure in heart”) being transposed to the first item of petition. That is very interesting. But you can see immediately how “Blessed are the pure in heart” and “holy be your name” are internally connected. That is very easy to see and requires no great exposition.

3) “YOUR KINGDOM COME” AND “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN”

Or take the next item, “Your kingdom come”. Again if you are at all familiar with the scriptural teaching of the OT you will see how it coincides immediately with those who mourn. Who are those who desire God’s kingdom to come but those who mourn because of the present state of sin in the world, who mourn because of sin in their own life, who mourn because of sin in the church, who mourn because of sin generally. They long for “Thy kingdom come”. If you do not mourn for sin, you cannot say from your heart, “Your kingdom come” because you are very satisfied with things as they are. Sin does not disturb you; it does not bother you. I do not see many Christians very anxious that God’s kingdom should come, that the Lord Jesus should come again, because I do not see that much concern for righteousness, for holiness. I do not see that much grief over sin. I do not really see it. If we grieved so intensely about sin, we would constantly be longing: “Your kingdom come”, your salvation come, deliver us from this sin, this bondage of sin that we are in. As Paul says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” [Romans 7:24] Who shall deliver me? He knows of his sin. “Wretched man that I am!” he says in Romans 7. And then he looks forward to God’s salvation, to the coming of God’s kingdom: “Thanks be to God”. Christ will give us the victory. He longs with earnest expectation, with outstretched neck for the coming of God’s kingdom. That is what the Greek word means. “Thy kingdom come”. Paul longs for the kingdom because he mourns over sin. He speaks of himself as wretched man - he in this body is still under bondage to sin.

There the connection is clear. If you go into the OT, it is equally clear. In Psalm 80:5 the psalmist speaks of tears, mourning over sin. In v.2 he says, “Come to me! Oh, God! Save me! Let your salvation come! Come and save us!” Or in Psalm 6:6&7 we see the same thing. We read of the mourning and weeping over sin, of grief over sin. In v.4 we find there:

“Turn, O Lord”, and save us. Turn and save us. Turn back. Come back to me. Save me. This longing for God to come. For the coming of the kingdom of God is God’s own coming. It is Jesus’ coming. So you see this constant connection between the mourning over sin and the longing that God should come and save.

4) “THY WILL BE DONE” AND “BLESSED ARE THE MEEK”

The next passage as we press forward is, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “Your will be done on earth” - who speaks of this kind of a prayer but the meek? The meek shall inherit what? The earth. Your will be done on earth as in heaven. In both cases you have there the word ‘earth’. Very interesting! Who desires that God’s will be done? Who says “Your will be done” but the meek? The meek are those who desire God’s will to be done. “Not my will, O Lord, but yours be done.” That is the language of the meek. It is the proud who says, “My will be done. I want it this way.” The meek says, “Thy will be done! As perfectly as it is done in heaven, so let Your will be completely done on earth.”

5) "GIVEN US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD" AND "HUNGERING FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS"

The next parallel is already so obvious. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Who would pray such a prayer but those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? They are the ones who hunger for the bread of life. For where is righteousness but in the bread of life? Everywhere the connection is so obvious.

6) “FORGIVE US OUR SINS” AND “BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL”

Notice the connection in the next item: “Forgive us our sins.” Who are those who long for that forgiveness? Those who have their sins forgiven! They are the merciful. In fact in the Lord’s teaching, mercy and forgiveness of sins are parallel in meaning. What does it mean to be merciful? It is to forgive sins. Why do we forgive sin? Because we ourselves have been forgiven. The connection between mercy and forgiveness, the Lord Jesus has made explicit in Matthew 18:32&33. In v.33 it speaks of having mercy and in v.32 it speaks of forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness are identical terms in the Lord’s teaching.

7) “AS WE FORGIVE” AND “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS”

Look at the next one in the same way. “As we forgive those who trespass against us”. Who speaks such language but peacemakers? Only those who desire peace, who make peace, readily forgive the offense against them. It is the attitude of a peacemaker that he does not hold offense against you, that does not bear a grudge. If you bear a grudge, if you refuse to forgive, how can you be a peacemaker? A peacemaker is one who does not hold another person’s sin against him. A peacemaker is one who immediately seeks a reconciliation. He does not say, “We are not on speaking terms anymore. Forget it! If you say you are a Christian, forget it. I am not talking to the likes of you again.” The peacemaker is one who says, “Okay, okay. There is an offense against me but I hold this not against you.” Freely forgive! In Ephessians 4:32 Paul says, “as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” [KJV], so you forgive one another. Forgive one another! A peacemaker is the one who freely forgives because he himself has been forgiven too. So you find there is an inseparable connection between the merciful and the peacemaker. No wonder they follow each other closely.

8) “LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION” AND “BLESSED ARE THE PERSECUTED”

Let us come to the eighth item: “lead us not into temptation”. As we have already seen, there the connections are so obvious that it hardly requires any kind of exposition. “Lead us not....” When do we face the most severe temptation? Certainly under persecution for those who have turned away from sin. Have you not often thought to yourself, “Will I be able to survive under persecution?” Even those of you who are training in the Lord’s work, how many times have you thought to yourself, “What would happen if I am severely persecuted for the faith? Would I survive this test, this trial, this temptation?” As you know, in Greek, the words ‘trial’ and ‘temptation’ are the same word. There is no distinction in meaning. “Lead us not into temptation”. Would I be able to survive it? By God’s grace!

But then here also we do not put ourselves in a position of temptation. We do not seek temptation. Even though we love God, we do not go and look for it. The prayer is a caution against looking for trouble. There is enough trouble coming to you without your going to look for it. It reminds us of early Christians. Some of them, in their untutored zeal, went and tempted the Tempter. They looked for trouble. When the Roman emperor gave an edict of persecution against Christians (as you know from church history, i.e., those of you who have read some church history), the governor found a whole crowd of Christians in front of his office saying, “Here I am.” The emperor had said that Christians are to be persecuted. [So this group said,] “We are Christians. Get on with it!” Do not look for trouble! “Lead us not into temptation.” He will not lead us and you do not go and look for it. But temptations and trials will come. And above all, of course, the greatest concern is the concern of the temptation, the supreme temptation of apostasy, which we face under pressure. That is, above all things, what we seek to be delivered from.

9) “DELIVER US FROM EVIL” AND “BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN REVILED AND PERSECUTED”

Notice then also the last item in the Lord’s Prayer which is so clear, so plain to us. What does the last beatitude say? Read the words very carefully. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my own account” (notice the word evil against you falsely) and “deliver us from evil.” That is exactly what we pray for - “deliver us from evil.” There the internal connection is so obvious that it hardly requires exposition.

THE LORD’S PRAYER DRAWS OUT THE INTERNAL ESSENCE OF THE BEATITUDES

I would like you to bear in mind then that the Lord in His supreme wisdom has shown us what He has done. He has taken the Beatitudes right there, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and turned it into a subject for prayer and yet turned it in such a way as to draw out the internal essence of it. Oh, the Lord’s teaching is so supreme in its wonder, in the beauty of its construction, in the depth of spiritual quality and insight. Can you see now the connection? Do you now know what you are doing when you pray the Lord’s Prayer? You are simply praying, in fact, the content of the Beatitudes. I trust you will never again pray the Lord’s Prayer without realizing what it is you are saying. When you say “Our Father”, you are praying, “Lord, make me to be poor in spirit.” On the other hand, if you are not poor in spirit, you cannot pray meaningfully the words “Our Father”. You are not rightly using those words. You are using them without understanding and you are just using the words in vain. You now realize how you should pray the Lord’s Prayer. You pray the Lord’s Prayer in an attitude of poverty of spirit. You realize what kind of people can say “Our Father”. Only the people who are poor in spirit can rightfully say, “Our Father who art in heaven”. Then you realize you need to be pure in heart in order to be able to truly say “hallowed be Your name”, because if you are not pure in heart and you say, “hallowed be Your name”, you are simply being hypocritical. You are being a hypocrite. How can you say, “hallowed be Your name” when you are impure in heart? I shudder to think of all these people who mumble [the Lord’s Prayer] every day, and in many church services they finish the service by saying, “Our Father”. They do not even know what they are saying. Do we know what we are saying?

I was brought up in a Roman Catholic school. One of the first prayers I ever learned is “Our Father which art in heaven” and I did not even know what I was saying. Everyday I knelt on my bed [and prayed this] until the time when I finally finished with Christianity and no longer prayed and no longer thought about church and Christians. Many years later the Lord brought me back again and brought me into His eternal kingdom. Yet in that Catholic school, like all other children, you simply repeat what you are told. I simply knelt on my bed and said, “Our Father which art in heaven”, and mumbled and mumbled. I would think, “That is a bit too fast.” So, I thought I had better go through it a second time. So, I mumbled another “Our Father....” It is pathetic to think that there are people in the churches today who use a rosary to count how many times they say, “Our Father.” In fact, sometimes if you go to a priest to confess your sins, the priest will say to you, “Okay, seeing that you have confessed your sins, I pronounce on you absolution, but you will say 20 “Our Fathers”. So the fellow goes there and he kneels down and says, “Our Father...”. The faster you go, the quicker you get it over with.” (You press one bead in the rosary and then the next one to keep count how many times you have said it.) It is absolutely revolting! It is simply terrible that people should be made to do things that they do not even know what they are doing. We must pray these things if we are to pray rightly at all, only with the understanding of the Beatitudes in our heart, i.e., only if we rightly understand what it is we are doing.

PURITY OF HEART - A MATTER OF SURVIVAL!

Finally I mentioned also that there is one significant change in the order [of the Beatitudes]. So far only one change in the order and that is, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” The sixth beatitude is moved forward to become the first petition after “Our Father”. This is very important. The Danish theologian-philosopher, Søren Kirkegaard wrote the book with the title: Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. He was quite right! He rightly understood the Lord’s teaching on that point. Purity of heart means you do not serve two masters. You do not serve God and mammon. Purity of heart is that you will one thing, that is, you serve only God with your whole heart, your whole being. Purity of heart means there is no impurity in it. There is no other interest, no other master being served. You serve God and Him alone. It is remarkable that this particular beatitude is moved forward. There is certainly no coincidence that in the Lord’s Prayer it is moved forward. This purity of heart is the single most important thing we must pray for in order to remain faithful to God. In the next item of the Lord’s teaching, you will see it becomes the matter of spiritual survival. That is very important in the Lord’s Prayer - spiritual progress, but first spiritual survival. So from now on I trust that you will be able to pray the Lord’s Prayer meaningfully, and not just to repeat that prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer, as we mentioned when we were expounding it, is a model prayer. That is to say that the Lord did not say, “Just repeat these words”, but rather, “Make it the subject of your prayer, make it a pattern for prayer. Model your prayer upon this model prayer.” That is, when you pray other prayers, you make this, as it were, a starting point, a focal point for each item of your prayer. And each time you go through the Lord’s Prayer, you will have covered every beatitude. That truly is wonderful. May God truly enable us to truly enter into the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer by understanding ever more deeply and ever more clearly the Beatitudes. Keep meditating on it. And as I said right at the beginning, make the Beatitudes an item for prayer just as the Lord taught us to do in what we call the Lord’s Prayer.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

THE NINE BEATITUDES AND THE NINE-FOLD FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT


The Nine Beatitudes and the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit

The Nine Beatitudes:                        The Nine-fold fruit of the Spirit
1. Blesses are the poor in spirit           1. Love
2. Blessed are those who morn           2. Joy
3. Blessed are the meek                      3. Peace
4. Blessed are those who hunger        4. Patience
    and thirst for righteousness
5. Blessed are the merciful                 5. Kindness
6. Blessed are the pure in heart          6. Goodness
7. Blessed are the peacemakers         7. Faithfulness
8. Blessed are those who are              8. Gentleness
    persecuted for righteousness
9. Blessed are you when others          9. Self Control
    revile you and persecute you
    and utter all kinds of evil
    against you falsely on my
    account

The nine-fold fruit of the Spirit corresponds to the 9 Beatitudes. This is the fruit that Yehovah bears in the regenerate persons when they will to have these nine holy and beautiful attitudes, these nine godly inner attitudes! The lord Jesus is talking about inner attitudes of persons spiritually in the Beatifudes; and Paul is talking about the results of having these inner attitudes, the fruit of the Spirit, the counterpart of the works of the flesh If you have a spiritual inner attitude you will do the works of the Spirit in you life.

Poor in Spirit and Love are Foundational

The first Beatitude says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit"; and the first fruit of the spirit is "Love".

Notice: The first Beatitude is a foundational statement that includes in itself the other eight that follow. The same is the fruit of the spirit. The first fruit "Love" all other eight within itself. So the "poor in spirit" is a foundational statement from which all the other Beatitudes derive and "love" is the foundational fruit from which the other eight follow. If you do not have love, you will not have joy, you will not have peace. None of the others will follow. If you are not poor in spirit you will not morn for sin, neither will you have hungering and thirsting for righteousness - right doing; neither will you have meekness - all these follow from that foundational element - to be poor in spirit.

The lord Jesus says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom, for theirs is the kingdom of God. To be poor in spirit is to realize that we are absolutely helpless to do any righteousness according to the will of Yehovah unless we are enabled by His indwelling Spirit giving us the power to do so. We come to realize that we have nothing in ourselves that can accomplish being able to walk in this world according to the will of Yehovah. When you approach Yehovah with that attitude of mind He will pour out His love upon you and you will experience His presence. That is what Paul says in Romans 5:5: "God has shed upon us His love my His Holy Spirit. Paul was speaking about his own experience. If we come before our God and Father with the attitude of a child realizing our helplessness to carry out His will in our lives on our own strength He will pour out His love upon us!

Note: Jesus says: Truly I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Mourning and Joy

What happens to those who mourn over their own sins, who mourn over the sins of other people, who mourn over the sins of the called-out Assembly. What happens when you mourn for sin? Yehovah pours forth His forgiveness upon you. What happens when you are forgiven? You will be filled with Joy. In Luke 6:21; the second beatitude says this, “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.” You shall laugh. You will be filled with joy!

Do you see what Paul is doing? He is drawing forth the consequences of applying the Sermon on the Mount into your life.

You see that the second fruit of the Spirit corresponds exactly with the inner attitude of the disciple that mourns. You mourn for sin - that is what you have to do - and God will, on His part through the Spirit, fill you with joy.

Meekness and Peace

If you become meek, humble, contrite before God, what will happen is that you experience God’s peace being poured into your heart. You are going to see what God will do in your life. You will experience a peace that you never understood before. Of course, that is exactly what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come unto Me all of you who are weary and heavy laden. Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of spirit and you shall find rest - peace - unto your soul - being.” That is the consequence of meekness: peace unto your soul - being. Paul has not failed to notice this connection between meekness and peace in the very words of the Lord Jesus. Besides, his own experience confirmed this.

Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness... and Patience

What happens as we press on if you hunger and thirst for righteousness? What happens when you hunger and thirst for righteousness? When you hunger and thirst for God? “Hungering and thirsting” - notice the present continuous tense. You keep on hungering and thirsting for righteousness - what will that do for you? For that will build for you spiritual endurance where it is translated sometimes as steadfastness, sometimes as endurance, sometimes as what I like to translate it as stickability - being able to stick the thing through. Stickability - that is what Christians need.

Note: Paul says concerning our life in Jesus that: “He, God, always gives us the victory through the Messiah Jesus our Lord.” Paul was never one who knew spiritual defeat because he implemented spiritual principles in his life and so always gained the victory. Okay, sometimes you get knocked down but that is not defeat.

Left to ourselves, Satan would wipe the floor off us. He would make a doormat out of us; he would trample us. But through Christ we always gain the victory. So what happens to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? They learn endurance. What trains us so well in spiritual endurance as learning to persevere in our hunger and thirst for righteousness all through our spiritual life? Those who do not press on are the ones who give up.

Merciful and Kindness

Let us go to the next point - the merciful. In the Beatitudes you have, “Blessed are the merciful” and the counterpart in the fruit of the Spirit is "kindness". These two words are so close in meaning that there is hardly a need for drawing a connection. In fact the words ‘merciful’ and ‘kindness’ are constantly linked in the NT. Take for example Titus 3:4; where you have this word for ‘kindness’ which is in the fruit of the Spirit here, and in v.5 you have the word for ‘mercy’. Kindness and mercy - one is simply the consequence of another. One is simply so internally linked with the other that no fuller definition is required. Or take for example, Ephesians 2:7; there you have ‘kindness’. In v.4 you have ‘mercy’. Kindness and mercy are constantly linked. In 1 Peter 2:3; you have ‘kindness’ and in v.10 you have ‘mercy’. These are constantly linked to each other.

Pure in Heart and Goodness

In the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart”, we see the correspondence to the fruit of the Spirit of ‘goodness’ very easily.

The connection is so obvious that there is hardly need for anything to be said. The connection is even explicitly stated, for example, in 1 Timothy 1:5; where you find the word ‘pure’ just as you have here in the Sermon on the Mount, directly connected with the word ‘good’ as is in the fruit of the Spirit - the pure in heart, the good of conscience. Pure and good, they are simply synonymous terms.

Peacemakers and Faithfulness

When we come to the seventh one, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, the corresponding fruit of the Spirit is faith, more specifically, faithfulness. The Greek word for ‘faith’ is the same word for ‘faithfulness’. There is in fact no difference in the Greek. You will find that for example the RSV sometimes translates the word as ‘faith’, sometimes as ‘faithfulness’. There is not any real distinction from the point of view of the lexicon. The peacemaker is a person who can be described as faithful because such a person is one who is walking faithfully in the footsteps of the master. Why did the Lord Jesus take up the cross? In order to be a peacemaker - to reconcile us to himself. Why do we take up the cross? Why does the Lord Jesus call us to take up the cross? Well, when we studied this beatitude we saw it already! Because we also are, as Paul says, given “the ministry of reconciliation”. So when you are following exactly in his footsteps, doing the work that he does, being a reconciler, a peacemaker, that is the test of faithfulness. It is so obvious, so clear. And in fact the words ‘faithfulness’, ‘faith’ and ‘peace’ are linked together in 2 Timothy 2:22. These words are again linked right there.

Persecution and Gentleness

So we press on to the eighth beatitude, “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”.

What is the corresponding fruit of the Spirit? Well, the corresponding fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. Persecuted for righteousness’ sake - gentleness. The correspondence is extremely clear. Why? How should a Christian behave when he is persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Should he shout back? Should he revile back? Should he behave in an aggressive manner? No! His attitude is to be one of gentleness. As Peter says in 1 Peter 2:23; when Jesus was reviled he did not revile again, that is, when he was abused, ridiculed, laughed at, he did not retaliate in any way. He was gentle. He was meek. That is what meekness is about - one does not strike back. When he was reviled, he reviled not again. Peter said to the Christians, you be like him. When you are ridiculed, when you are mocked, when you are trampled upon, you do not revile back again. You do not shout back; you do not talk back. You will be like him: meek, gentle. That is why Paul speaks of the meekness and patience of the Messiah in 2 Corinthians 10:1. This is the pattern of Paul’s own life under persecution. We can look at what Paul says about how he behaves when he is persecuted for righteousness’ sake in 1 Corinthians 4:12. I find this passage so Messiah-like. I would like to read this to you from v.11: “To the present hour we hunger and thirst (you need a lot of endurance for that as we have noticed), we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless (like the Messiah who had nowhere to lay his head), and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled” - what did he do? He did not revile again - “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate (that is, make peace); we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.” We are treated like garbage and we take it meekly, gently. Now this I find so beautiful.

There you see the parallel between this beatitude and the fruit of the Spirit. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” and then the fruit of the Spirit. What is the blessing? The spiritual blessing comes forth now in the form of gentleness, then in the form of inheriting the kingdom of God. The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness under persecution. Where can we see the true gentleness of a person, his true character? It will be under persecution. We can all smile when times are good. What we really are will appear when times are hard.

Being Reviled and Persecuted and Having Self-Control

What is the last beatitude? “Blessed are you,” the Lord Jesus says, “when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account”. You are slandered; false stories are told about you; all kinds of lies are repeated about you. There is no truth in them at all and you are just having your reputation blackened. Your name is sullied; you are falsely treated in this way, how should you behave? You see the fruit of the Spirit? When ever did you need more desperately that fruit of the Spirit under those circumstances in self-control? How easily when we are falsely accused that we fight back. We are willing to take it when we deserve to be reprimanded. We can still be gentle because we feel that we are suffering justly. We wanted to suffer like this - it is a nice to have the feeling of being a martyr in some ways. When we are suffering for Christ, we can take it gently. But the one time we cannot take it and we will not take it is when people slander us and say false things about us. Then our anger arises; then we are going to strike back, because we feel, “This is not right! This is not true! Because I did not do this and you have not the right to say that about me.” Paul says, “No, no. Do not worry. The fruit of the Spirit when you endure false accusations is self-control.” It is during those times when you most desperately need that fruit of the Spirit of self-control that you do not allow yourself to get angry, to lose your temper. None of these will be glorifying to God. Rather, keep well under control. Let the Spirit of God help you so to live that you show forth the beauty of the Messiah Jesus.

Which Comes First - The Beatitudes or the Fruit of the Spirit?

The Sermon on the Mount talks about the inner attitude in us but the fruit of the Spirit is what God’s Spirit does in us, but which comes first? We would like to say, “The fruit of the Spirit comes first and then we will be poor in spirit and we will do this and we will do that, when God has done all that in us. But since He has not done all that in us, then look at us as a church - we are all pitiful spiritual beggars. What can we do because God did not do anything in us?” That is very remarkable up to this point. Let me tell you: if you do not understand the text, read the commentary, that is, read what Paul has to say.

We Reap What We Sow!

Let us read what Paul has to say, as we turn to Galatians again. In Galatians Paul is continuing to expound his point about the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh. This is what he says in Galatians 6, and we read from v.7. He says to the Galatians Christians, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will he reap.” What will you reap? It depends on what you sow! That is very obvious. You do not have to be a genius to understand that. You want to reap the fruit of the Spirit? Then you have got to sow something to the Spirit. Do you want to become a person who is spiritually powerful and that can be used by God? That depends on what you sow to the Spirit. Now that is what he goes on to say in the next verse, in v.8: “For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Eternal life is something that we are to reap. But in order to reap, we have to sow something, because you do not reap anything if you do not sow anything. If you sow the wrong thing, you reap the wrong thing. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap corruption and death. If you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life. It depends on what you are going to sow.

You cannot go on to become a spiritual giant by sowing to the flesh. All that you will reap from sowing to the flesh is corruption and death. So then in v.9 Paul goes on to say: “let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap (a harvest), if we do not lose heart.” There is the patience. You keep hungering and thirsting for righteousness, you have to have the endurance. You do not lose heart. So then, as we have the opportunity, let us do good. Let us do good to all men.

Now I hope that you can see which comes first. The harvest or the sowing?

The fruit of the Spirit is the outward manifestation of what God does in us, but to get fruit, you have to sow something; the fruit is the harvest. You do not get any harvest if you do not do the sowing.
So Paul is going on to say, “If you sow to the Spirit, you shall reap the fruit. If you do not sow anything, you get nothing. And if you sow to the flesh, you reap corruption.” “If you sow sparingly,” he said in another place, “you will reap sparingly. If you sow abundantly you will reap abundantly.” Whether you get a big harvest or a small harvest depends on what you sow and how much you sow. You see Paul, in other words, is putting the responsibility on all of us, it comes right back to me, right back to us. He will not allow us to say, “Lord, we did not get a big harvest because You did not do much work in me.” That would be an insult to God. God’s power is sufficient for big harvests and is fully available to each person. It depends on what you sow. That is very important!

Learn from Paul - Pursue Spiritual Things!

What does it mean to talk about sowing? What does it mean to sow to the Spirit? Well, it depends, in other words, on what is your spiritual input? The harvest is the output. What you reap is the output. What is your input and where did you put the input? The sowing is something we do. That is very obvious if we are going to get any harvest. It is something we must do. There is a word that Paul uses time and again - the word is to pursue, to make it your aim. The reason why Paul was a spiritual giant is not at all accidental, nor is it a question of predestination. It was a question of what kind of a person he was by the grace of God. What kind of a person he was becomes obvious when you study his writings, his letters.

There are so many words you could study but notice one particular word, it is the word ‘pursue’. The Greek word is “dioko” - pursue, which is sometimes in the RSV translated rather weakly by the words “make it your aim”. The word “dioko” means pursue. It expresses a certain intensity in which, for example, you are running hard after a another person, say, in battle. You are pursuing or chasing the enemy. For example, you are hunting down a prey. You are pursuing, running fast so that you do not lose the prey - the animal you are hunting - or else you will go without supper, and so you pursue. It expresses a straining of every nerve in order to get to the prize, the goal. This word is used many times, at least 8x in the letters of Paul, for example, in Romans 12:13; or Romans 14:19; or 1 Corinthians 14:1; to pursue love, to make love your aim; Philippians 3:12, which is so characteristic of Paul. “I pursue - I press forward towards the mark.” There is an intensity! That is the intensity of the input.

The reason why we have a generation of feeble Christians is because there is no input. I see Christians who are absolutely unmotivated, who have no goal, no pressing forward, no striving in the spirit. Nothing! They sit back waiting for a harvest when they have sowed absolutely nothing. No wonder they go through life with nothing. How can I expect God to give me a spiritual harvest when I have sowed absolutely nothing? I beg you to really think on this point very deeply.

That is why the Beatitudes are what comes first! That is the attitude of your input. That is what you sow. If you say, like Paul, “I shall make it my spiritual goal, my spiritual purpose; I shall pursue with single-minded determination, by the grace of God, to be poor in spirit. That is, I shall come to God as a person who is completely dependent upon Him. I shall come to God as somebody who is wholly committed to Him, fully yielded to Him, entirely open to Him like a spiritual beggar, that He may fill me with all His fullness.” If you come with that kind of an attitude, if you pursue this kind of an attitude with steadfastness, and if we steadfastly pursue such an attitude, we shall be filled with the fullness of God. “He shall pour His love into me in overflowing measure by His Holy Spirit because now I have opened my heart fully wide to Him. I have sowed a spiritual attitude which makes it possible for Him to give me the spiritual harvest. If I aim, by God’s grace, then I shall learn to mourn - mourn for the sin in myself and for sin in others. If I aim to be meek by God’s grace (i.e. by His enabling power), then the way is clear or open for Him to give me His revitalizing peace. Though I do not as yet intensely love righteousness, if I make it my object to learn to hunger and thirst for righteousness, then He is going to give me the fruit of the Spirit. [”To will is with me.” I can at last will to have that inner attitude.]

God’s Part and Ours

This is what the Lord is teaching us in the Sermon on the Mount: what we are to sow, what is our spiritual direction, what we are to pursue, what is the direction of our high calling that we must press forward to. Paul did not say, “Well, we have a high calling and I am waiting to be lifted up by the scruff of my neck to the high calling. I have a high calling but I am waiting for God to attach the booster jets to my back so that He can shoot me to the high calling.”

No, he says, “I press forward”. This is what I am doing. I am pressing forward so that God, by His grace, will then empower me onwards. God cannot do anything in you unless you have the right attitude. I am sure that as a Christian you have discovered that already. You have to have the right attitude. For example, if you do not repent to begin with, He just cannot forgive you. His forgiveness is there like a vast ocean ready to forgive your sins. But if you do not repent, that impenitence is like a dike that holds back the ocean of His forgiveness. That ocean of forgiveness cannot come into your life. That water cannot fertilize the fields of your life because of the lack of repentance on your part holds back the whole of God’s grace. Now if we can comprehend this principle as regards repentance, how easy it is to understand this on any other level.

Aim to Be the Kind of Person Blessed by God!

God cannot do anything for you until you open your heart to Him. It is said, for example, that right at the beginning of the ministry of the Lord Jesus, the Lord Jesus could not do many mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief. Their unbelief held back the grace of God. The same is true all the way through your spiritual life.

These Beatitudes then, brothers and sisters, you have to understand, is what the Lord Jesus is saying to His disciples, “Blessed are this kind of people”. Now you aim to be this kind of person who is blessed by God. He said to His disciples, “You make this kind of person the objective of your life. You become that kind of person, because that kind of person is blessed by God.” That must be the goal of every disciple.

Hopefully from what is written; the whole objective, the whole teaching, the internal spiritual connection of the Lord’s teaching on the Beatitudes becomes very, very clear to us. These Beatitudes are not meant to be intellectualized. They are meant to be applied into our life as the goal and direction which we are to follow. Then we are going to experience the power of God in our lives in a way that we never knew, never dreamed was possible, until our lives are so open to God through a poverty of spirit that He will fill us with all His fullness. I pray that God will truly help each one of us to understand these life-giving words of the Lord Jesus.

Written by Eric Chang and edited by Bruce Lyon




Monday, June 3, 2019

7 VITAL SIGNS YOU HAVE NEW LIFE IN YOU



First vital sign of new life with us is that we hear God’s Word and we keep His commandments. Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments:

He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. (1 John 2:3-5)

When we are born again our lives will show a habit of obedience to God’s Word. As mentioned earlier, we will never be perfect, but being a child of God there will be a desire in our hearts to hear, believe and obey His word.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
(1 John 4:4-6)

We know that we are saved when we are eager to hear the Word of God and not the words of this fallen, sinful world. We are eager for the apostles’ teaching; that is we desire to learn what Scripture tells us about God and about all of life. In Acts 2:47 we are told that in the early church the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” When you are born from above you love God’s Word. You believe what Jesus said is true “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

There are some people who do not want to hear the Word of God. For some people it goes in one ear and then out the other. But when you are born from above you love God’s Word and you strive to keep His commandments. The apostle Peter tells us to “desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby.”

Second vital sign is that those who are born from above love others, especially those in the family of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest:

Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. ( 1 John 3:10-14)

There are two stunning statements here. One is that Cain was of the wicked one. And his self-righteousness and hate resulted in the murder of Abel. Hatred is the seed that leads to murder. Conversely, the second stunning statement is that “we know that we have passed out of death” and into life “because we love the brethren.” And this love is evidenced not just in words and sentiment but in deeds. By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. (1 John 3:16-19)

We are called to the same standard of love that God's anointed one has for all of us. His was the supreme sacrifice of his life in death. Our sacrifice is in serving one another in meeting needs. In Philippians 2:4 we are told, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7, 8)

God our Father is the essence of love. And if we are His children His nature is in us. And we will love one another as He loves us. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His uniquely begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation - mercy seat - for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

God’s love for us is sacrificial and beneficial. We did not deserve this love or earn it an any way. Being born of God we are to love others in the same way. And sometimes people need to be loved when they least deserve it. As Romans 5:8 reveals “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners the Messiah died for us.” Our love is to be real, practical, beneficial and even at times sacrificial.

Third vital sign of those who are born again is that we do not love the world.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 john 2:15-17)

When we are born again the love of God our Father is in us. We should love what He loves and hate what He hates. There are things that are wicked and evil in our world. And Romans 12:9 exhorts us to, Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” Even when the things of this world are all dressed up and sparkle and entice us, we need to learn to see beyond the glitter to not be deceived.

Fourth vital sign of life for those who are children of God is that we confess that Jesus is the Messiah.

Romans 5:5: Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Messiah? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
(1 john 2:22, 23)

To deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of God, is to deny God, for God testified that Jesus is His Son. And if you deny that Jesus is the Messiah you cannot be saved.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:15)

what a remarkable statement this is! If you confess, if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then God abides in you and you in God. The realm in which you live, all the time, is God.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. (1 John 5:1)

No one is saved or born from above by just believing in God. We are not born again by being religious. But we are born of God when we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, God’s anointed servant. God was at work in Jesus the Messiah reconciling the world to Himself. Therefore there is no salvation in any other person than Jesus the Messiah When we confess that Jesus is who God says he is we are born of God. And we not only love God, we love everyone who is born of God.

Fifth vital sign is that we strive to live a life of obedience and faith, we desire to live a holy and righteous life.

But whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in him. He who says he abides in him ought himself also to walk just as he walked. (1 John 2:5, 6)

Our Lord lived a life of love and faithful obedience to God and we should desire to do the same. And this includes not only faith, but our kindness, mercy and love to all. Our lifestyle is one of striving to do what is good and right.

And now, little children, abide in him, that when he appears, 
we may have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.
(1 John 2:28, 29)

If we are born of God then we are a partaker of His nature. This means that we practice living in righteousness rather than sinning. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him there is no sin. Whoever abides in him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen him nor known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (I John 3:4-10)

A born from above child of God makes it a joyful habit to trust God and to worship Him, to fellowship with other believers, to pray to give and to serve. Although we still have a sin nature and we sin and stumble, the dominant pattern of our lives is that we make it a practice to strive to be holy and righteous like Gods' anointed one Jesus.

The Greek word translated “practice” is poieo and it means to practice as you would an art or musical or athletic skill. Some areas of Christian growth and holy living are easier for one believer that it is for another. Financial giving may be easier for you than for me.

Being tender hearted and forgiving may be easier for you 
than someone else. Some of trust God much faster than others. But all of us should desire to strive to grow and mature in the faith. And we all mature at our own pace.
But if we are not reading God’s Word and learning the truth and walking in love and worshipping God with he family of God, we should take stock of our lives and our priorities and do the right thing.

Sixth vital sign of new life is the gift of God’s Spirit with in us.

And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus the Messiah and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit [which] He has given us. The Spirit is the active power and life of God in the Messiah in us. (1 John 2:23, 24)

We know that God abides in us, we know that we are born from above, by the Spirit of God is in us. Literally the word “by” should be “out from” the Spirit. Every believer can manifest the Spirit; evidences come out from the Spirit. We can speak in tongues, interpret tongues, and prophecy. We can receive from God a word of knowledge and word of wisdom; we can discern the presence of spirits. We can evidence great faith to bring about gifts of healings and workings of miracles at God’s direction. We can also see the fruit of the Spirit in our character. Our lives can be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Through the Word of God and the Spirit of God we are becoming more and more like God's anointed one. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (1 John 4:12, 13)

The Christian life is more than believing certain things. It means that we become new people, by means of the new birth. Through the Spirit we are regenerated and washed clean from sin. We have a new nature and everlasting life.

Seventh vital sign of new life is that we overcome the world.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5)

The Greek word translated “overcome” means to conquer. It means to achieve a victory that is evident to all. Jesus the Messiah used this word to describe himself. In John 16:33 he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

You and I no longer need to pattern our lives according to the course of this world. We no longer need to fear what it fears or love what it loves. This fallen, sinful world no longer holds us spell bound. Our thoughts and affections can be set on godly things. As each new day dawns what we think and how we behave is shaped by the Word of God. This is because we are born from above. In God's anointed one we are a new creation. And when the Messiah who is our life appears, then we too shall appear with him in glory.

Friday, May 31, 2019

WHERE IS JESUS’ HAFTARAH? (FINDING JESUS IN TODAY’S SYNAGOGUES)


www.thebiblejesus.com

Things in the modern church have changed since I was a boy. When I grew up in the Church of Christ in Margaret Street, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, in the 1950’s and 60’s things were a lot more formal.

Only men took part in the public speaking during the services. We all wore white shirts and ties with coats --- even in the middle of our oppressively hot summers --- no air cons then (the women carried hand fans and waved them back and forth over their faces). Certainly, all women and girls wore dresses and stockings. Many of the older women still wore hats and ribbons.

The church services too were rather predictable. They used to talk about “the three hymn sandwich” with communion in-between and the hymn to finish the sermon! The men who were to participate in the public part of the services would meet in the vestibule for a prayer meeting asking the Lord to honour His name and bless His people in the service. We would then file down in order to the front and either take our place on the platform (if we were taking a speaking role) or sit in the front middle pew (if we were to distribute the Lord’s supper).

On the stage were two pulpits, with the communion table the centrepiece. Invariably, there were two Bible readings. The first was from the right-hand pulpit and was an Old Testament passage. The second reading was from the left pulpit and was a New Testament passage that was thematically linked to the first reading --- after all “the OT is the NT concealed and the NT is the OT revealed”! When it came time the speaker (preacher) would give a sermon --- hopefully based on the two Bible readings.

I did not know it at the time, but this practice for public Scripture reading followed by a sermon has solid Jewish roots that goes back, yes, thousands of years! I am not suggesting of course, that in the synagogues the New Testament was read. But for way more than two millennia the Torah and “the Law and the Prophets” have been the focal point of the synagogue Scripture readings, and remains so to this very day.

For centuries traditional Jewish practice has been to read aloud the entire Torah (the first 5 books by Moses) each year. This Torah portion is called the parashah. Then, selections from the prophetic 2 and historical writings (called Neviim) were read aloud. This portion was called the haftarah, which means “completion”.

After the second reading from the prophets --- the haftarah --- the rabbi or visiting speaker would deliver his homily, his message, which was based on the passages of Scripture just read. It’s this practice that Christians have emulated, mostly not realizing how very Jewish its method is!

UNIFORMITY AROUND THE WORLD

Did you know that, to this day, the very same Old Testament Scripture readings from the Torah and the prophets are synchronised in every part of the world? If you went into a synagogue in Israel, in New York, in Sydney, in Europe, anywhere that Jews congregate, you will hear the same Bible passage(s) read aloud for that Sabbath?

This rhythmic pattern is so engrained in Jewish life that even secular Israeli calendars mark off the weeks of the year by the names of the parashah (Torah) that will be read that week. Can you imagine participating in a Bible study so universal that you can glance at a free calendar you got at the bank to see what you’ll be studying this week?

In Orthodox synagogues, the same Scripture texts have been recited each week of the year for over fifteen centuries. On the day they finish reading Deuteronomy, they throw a big party that they call Simchat Torah --- “The joy of the Torah.” After parading the scrolls around the synagogue with great pomp and circumstance, they read the last word of Deuteronomy followed immediately by the first words of Genesis. Not a moment should be spent outside of the Scriptures.

JESUS AND HIS APOSTLES
FOLLOWED THIS PATTERN

Two quick NT examples prove this standardised practice for millennia. The first in Luke 4 concerns Jesus’ opening public sermon made in his hometown of Nazareth. Although it had been Jesus’ lifelong weekly practice to participate in the public prayers and readings in the local synagogue, on this special Sabbath day he stood up to read (v.16).

After the Torah portion from Moses had been read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah 61 was handed to Jesus for the haftarah --- the second reading --- and, when he had opened it, he found the place where it was written … (v. 1). Jesus then proceeded to give the ‘sermon’ in which he dramatically announced the year of God’s favour”, the Year of Jubilee, with himself being the very one promised in the Scriptures, the long-awaited messianic king! Jesus read aloud,

The Spirit of Yehovah is upon me, because He anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of Yehovah's favour (v. 1).

A careful study of this passage in Luke 4:16 shows Jesus was very Jewish in these actions, even if his exegesis was to the ears of the locals most controversial, unorthodox, and yes, confronting!

The second example follows the public reading of the Torah and the Prophets in Antioch. On the Sabbath day Paul and his companions went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law (Torah) and the prophets (Neviim), the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.’ Paul then stood up, and with a gesture began to give his address (Acts 13:13ff). Two Bible readings followed by a sermon!

A DISCOVERY IN THE STOREROOM!

Most of us have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered by a bedouin shepherd boy in 1946. Their significance cannot be overestimated, but this is not the place to go into that. But are you aware of another earlier and equally important discovery in 1896 in Cairo of over 300,000 (!) Jewish documents? These discarded holy texts in a synagogue storeroom (called a genizah) contained, among many other documents, multiple lectionary lists.

To the astonishment of all, these were not the annual readings so well known today, but were from a more ancient synagogue tradition dating to well before Christ, and that had persisted in Israel, northern Africa and Egypt until at least 1100 A.D.

Upon close examination, the researchers noted that the modern Torah reading (remember it’s called the parashah portion) was derived from, and based upon, this much older tradition. Today’s Torah readings take one year to cycle through. This older liturgy was split into a cycle lasting three-and-a half years.

All of this is simply to say that, synagogue liturgies were not synchronised until they became standardized to the annual cycle instituted in Babylon a couple of hundred years after Christ. So it seems that Jesus and Paul on their travels would have encountered slightly different public readings from today’s as they traveled from town to town, village to village.

THE MOST STAGGERING DISCOVERY OF ALL!

Lois Tverberg notes that, The most fascinating thing the researchers found was that while the Torah readings had hardly changed, the haftarah readings from the Prophets were completely different.

How, in what way, had the liturgical readings changed from their ancient lectionary to what is practised in synagogues this day? Well, in the ancient cycle the interest was on Israel’s future.

The Torah reading was followed by the haftarah reading from the Prophets that focused on God’s promises of a glorious future messianic kingdom age.

Every week the haftarah readings asked the question: What will the world look like when God establishes His earthly kingdom? How will Israel’s story ultimately play out? Let’s give an example or two.

THE NEW CREATION

If the Torah portion was on the creation story from Genesis 1 the haftarah reading would be about the new creation of the heavens and the earth from Isaiah 65:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind … the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox … they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain”, says Yehovah (vs. 17,25).

ONE LANGUAGE TO REFLECT
UNIVERSAL WORSHIP

And on the week they read about the confounding of the languages at Babel from Genesis 11, the haftarah would cite the promise from Zephaniah 3:9:

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of Yehovah and serve Him with one accord.

A NEW COVENANT

Or, when they read about Moses descending Mount Sinai with the tables of the covenant in Exodus 34: 27-35, they would read the haftarah portion from Jeremiah 31: 32-39:

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yehovah: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people (v.33).

A SON TO TAKE THE REIGNS  OF
THE NEW GOVERNMENT

One last example. When they read Leviticus 12-13 about purification after childbirth, they’d read Isaiah 9:6 that looks forward to the birth of Israel’s messianic king, who would sit on David’s throne and receive an everlasting kingdom:

For unto us a child is born, unto a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty Hero, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Well, you get the idea from these few examples. The standard practice in the earlier synagogue liturgy was that the theme connecting the Torah reading (what’s it called? You remember! That’s right! The parashah portion) was oriented towards God’s promised future redemption for Israel --- and by extension the salvation of the nations of the world through Messiah.

As Christians this should excite and enthrall us to the point of jumping out of our skin with joy. To learn the earliest synagogue lectionaries --- the ones Jesus and the apostles were accustomed to --- were invariably oriented towards the future kingdom helps us understand why there was such power and controversy in their ministries, for they announced God’s promised future had arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth right in front of their very eyes.

Lois Tverberg says it is especially noteworthy that, over half of the prophetic readings came from Isaiah, especially chapters 40-66, which focus on promises of redemption and renewal. Jesus often quoted Isaiah 40-66. When he read in the synagogue in Luke 4, he was quoting from Isaiah 61, and the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are filled with references from Isaiah 55-57 and Isaiah 66. Paul’s favourite book to quote was also Isaiah.

Now a big question: Do we know which lectionary was used in the days of the New Testament? Scholars are sure the Torah portion (you got it this time! the parashah) was predetermined, but the second reading, the prophetic portion, the haftarah, was left up to the reader to choose so he could fit it to hopefully, a good and inspiring message showing how the prophets predict the Torah fulfillment.

This practice took a reasonable amount of knowledge and familiarity with the Scriptures, because the whole had to be thematically woven together as well as end with the promise of future blessing and redemption. Even back then, congregants wanted happy endings to their sermons!

JOINING THE DOTS

Understanding this practice helps us better understand some of the connecting arguments we find in the NT. For instance, when we understand the earlier lectionary reading pairs from Genesis 16 and Isaiah 54: 1-10, the apostle Paul’s argument in Galatians 4 is not such a stretch.

Genesis 16 is the story about Sarah’s barrenness and her hatching a plan to bear Abraham a child through the mistress Hagar. The haftarah reading from Isaiah 54 offers a future hope to end Sarah’s sorrow:

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labour! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married”, says Yehovah (v.1).

Paul makes the connection in Galatians 4. He starts with the Hagar/Sarah story then connects it to Isaiah 54 to support his argument about Gentile believers in Messiah now being sons of Abraham. Commentators have often struggled with how Paul likens Jews to the Egyptian slave Hagar. Some go so far as to suggest Paul has a strong anti-Semitic streak all of a sudden!

However, now we understand how the lectionary readings had already connected the two passages, we see how Paul is actually being very Jewish indeed when he links Genesis 16 with Isaiah 54. The Jews themselves had been connecting the two passages in their synagogue readings! But now in the full light of Messiah’s arrival, they were failing to see the implications.

THE BIG PICTURE

So, what is the big picture so far? By examining the standardised synagogue readings we learn that Jews were reading their Bibles in the synagogues earnestly looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises about His future Messianic Kingdom.

A classic example in the lectionary reading is the story of Joseph at Genesis 39:1-6:

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. Yehovah was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master … Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.

The assigned haftarah passage from the Prophets was in Isaiah 52:3 - 53:5, which recalls Israel’s oppression in Egypt and then God’s promise to intervene, For thus says Yehovah: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says Yehovah God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there.”

Notice how the readings tie Joseph’s fate of going down into Egypt with Israel’s. Both were slaves. But all is not hopeless because God will arise and deliver from Egypt. But He is going to do something far greater than even the Exodus when He sends a “Servant” figure:

See, My servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him --- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness --- .

As Tverberg comments, For centuries, Jewish congregations were reading Joseph’s story in light of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. The short Genesis reading stops with the words that Joseph was “handsome in appearance”, deliberately contrasting with Isaiah 52: 14, “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.”

The Isaiah reading goes on to the greatly loved words: Surely, he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought our peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53: 4-5).

Repeat: In synagogues at the time of Christ, as people read about the Suffering Servant they were thinking about Joseph. And you remember the end of his story. It doesn’t finish with him sold into slavery, falsely accused of crimes he didn’t commit, rejected by his brothers, wasting away in the dungeon all those years. Not at all. Joseph ends up being promoted to second in command over all Egypt and if it were not for him, not only would his own family have perished in the famine, but also many nations.

It is a fact that Jewish tradition has struggled with the question as to whether there would be two messiahs or just one. The prophets describe visions of both a royal, victorious King who would sit on David’s throne --- son of David --- and they describe visions of a Suffering Servant who would atone for Israel’s sins --- son of Joseph. So, would both callings be found in one individual or two Messiahs? One who would die and one who would reign? Massive debate!

Go back to their lectionary readings for a moment. A few weeks after reading about Joseph’s imprisonment in Egypt, they read about Pharaoh setting him up as commander-in-chief over Egypt in Genesis 41. That passage ends with Pharaoh asking, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the Spirit of God” (v.38)?

The haftarah reading for this text is Isaiah 11:2-16, The Spirit of Yehovah will rest on him --- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of Yehovah --- and he will delight in the fear of Yehovah.

Here is the vision of Israel’s glorious Messianic King (note too, it comes from Isaiah’s famous shoot from the stump of Jesse prophecy about a future son of David who will rule over a glorious renewed world).

Jewish synagogues were reading about Joseph’s suffering in light of Isaiah 52 - 53 and then a few weeks later reading about his reign over Egypt in light of Isaiah 11. Wowah! Could it be that a messiah who is the son of Joseph could someday reign? Hmmm.

CRUNCH TIME!

We have now arrived at the time for impact. If you have followed all the way to now, you will have a pressing question. Why don’t the People of the Book, the People who have treasured, poured over, loved, revered, publicly and thematically read the Torah & Neviim in their synagogues for millennia and yes, why don’t the people who have died for their holy Scriptures rather than deny them, why of all people don’t they --- accept that Jesus is their Messianic King so hoped for?

Perhaps it might help to ask another question first: What happened to Jesus’ haftarah? What about the messianic prophecies that all point to Jesus? Prophecies like Micah 5:2 about a ruler to be born in Bethlehem? Like Zechariah 9:9 about Jerusalem’s future King riding into the city on a donkey? Like Isaiah 7: 14 about being born of a virgin? Like Isaiah 61 which Jesus read as being fulfilled in himself, “Yehovah has anointed me”? Like the dozens and dozens of prophecies all evidently fulfilled in Jesus the Christ all the way down to his rejection and crucifixion, and resurrection --- all foretold to the minutest detail?

Where do we find these haftarah in the synagogue lectionaries today?

I’ll let Tverberg answer:

BRACE YOURSELVES, BUT THEY ARE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND IN THE ANNUAL LECTIONARY THAT IS USED NOW.

Bear in mind that the Torah is read aloud in its entirety during synagogue services, but only a subset of the Neviim is read, selected because it complements the Torah reading.

NOTICE: In 2004, an Israeli newspaper published an article called “What Happened to Jesus’ Haftarah?” where Jewish scholar Hananel Mack examined the lectionary readings. He concluded that the pattern was clear enough to show that it was intentional.

ANY PASSAGE THAT WAS QUOTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT AS BEING ABOUT JESUS AS THE MESSIAH WAS INTENTIONALLY AVOIDED IN SYNAGOGUE READINGS.

Could it be just a coincidence that the fourth century AD, when Jewish liturgy began adopting a lectionary that downplayed prophetic promises, was also the era that Christian persecution of the Jews reached a peak during the reign of Constantine? At the same time that Christians were chopping themselves free of their Jewish roots, the synagogue was silencing the prophecies of a coming Messiah.

Horror! Historically then, as Christianity was cutting its ties from its historical and theological moorings to Israel, the Jews were separating themselves from their own Messiah too. Both have been the losers! Christianity adopted its pagan tri-theism with its two-natured Jesus. Judaism lost her Saviour King.

Let us pray for that Day Jesus himself predicted, the Day when the nation of Israel will say, “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of Yehovah!” For on that Day Jewish acceptance will be life from the dead (Romans 11:15). On that Day the Torah of Moses and the prophets who spoke of the coming Kingdom of everlasting glory will have arrived. On that Day Israel’s Messianic King will be coronated. On that Day the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the one with the lamb’s Suffering Servant heart, will at last receive his promised inheritance with the faithful, blessed ones.

Even so. Come Lord Jesus Messiah! Your haftarah will not, cannot be denied, for your God and our God, your Father and our Father, is faithful!

Amen!

1. I acknowledge the title What Happened to Jesus’ Haftarah? is not mine. It originally appeared on August 12, 2005 at: http://www.haaretz.com/news/what-happened-to-jesus-haftarah-1.166699.

I also freely acknowledge that the inspiration for this article comes from Lois Tverberg’s chapter Moses and the Prophets Have Spoken: Finding Promises in the Synagogue in her book, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus: How a Jewish Perspective Can Transform Your Understanding, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017.

2. Some of the standardised lectionary lists that date from before Christ show an earlier triennial tradition, rather than the later annual cycle for the Torah readings.

3. Op Cit. Reading the Bible With Rabbi Jesus, pp 194-195

4. Luke 4:16; informs us this had been Jesus’ regular custom or habit (eiotha) in Nazareth where he had been raised.

5. The Greek verb anaptusso rightly translated means Jesus “unrolled it”. It takes some skill to be able to find the place you are looking for on a scroll many metres long! The fact Jesus carefully selected his verses on this occasion indicates he was familiar with handling the scrolls and of course, could read Hebrew!

6. Op. Cit. p 196 (My underlining).

7. Op Cit. p199

8. Op Cit. p204

An article from Greg Deuble's website: www.the bible jesus.com edited by Bruce Lyon