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Who Is God, Part 5

We’ve been looking at some aspects of God’s character and nature, not because He is mildly interesting, but because understanding God is absolutely essential if you, as a Christian, want to have the fullest, most meaningful, most honest relationship with Him as possible. And it’s not like God is a mystery! If He is a mystery as some think He is, then the Bible is full of lies. Here’s what Paul thought about the issue of whether or not God is a mystery:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18 – 20 | TNIV)

Those three verses are either comforting or scary, depending on the spiritual state of the person reading them! In truth, these verses deal with people – Gentiles, not Jews – who didn’t have the Scriptures. For the Jew, things were a little different; they were the custodians of God’s Word, in which God revealed Himself to them. But the Gentiles were a completely different story. How was God dealing with people who never heard the Gospel or saw a copy of the Scriptures? This section of Romans 1 is just as relevant today as it was when Paul wrote it. We are living in what has been called the “post Christian world,” a time unprecedented in world history. For the first time ever, the majority of those living in the West have no knowledge of the Bible. Others prefer to think of this modern era as “the twilight of Western thought,” and that’s a good label, too. Young people today – from the so-called Millennials on down – have no clue how the Bible has shaped the Western world. From the arts to education to governance to science to even warfare, the pages of the Scripture have shaped Western attitudes and philosophies.

Where once the Bible was taught in public schools (oh, the horror!), now not only is it ignored in public schools, but it is disparaged. One time, not so long ago, a young person with a very limited knowledge of the Bible, knowledge gained in school, understood that he was a sinner who needed God; he had a sense of morality and ethics. We’ll never know how many seeds of salvation planted in elementary school through the most casual of references to the Bible took root that resulted in salvation later on in life.

In Romans, Paul brilliantly explains how God revealed Himself to people who have never had even a glimpse at a Bible. He explains that some people may wonder why they need to be saved. You probably know people like that. They’re good citizens; good parents; decent and as honest as the day is long. They’ve never read the Bible so they have no idea they’re doomed for Hell. For people like that, God’s solution is simple: His wrath is revealed all around them; they are literally living under God’s wrath. But they deny the truth. For example, every living thing all around such a person is dropping dead. Plants, animals, friends and family members. Such tragedies invariably cause a person to think about themselves and their future. But, as Paul wrote, they deny the truth – they refuse to think too much about it. Like the person who keeps putting off making a will, the sinner who doesn’t take notice of what God is revealing all around them, may find out one day it’s just too late.

Paul’s point is clear: Because God has always been revealing Himself to the world, specifically His wrath, people are without excuse. The Jew is without excuse because they had the Scriptures, and Gentiles are without excuse because His wrath is all in the world all around them.

So far is this series, we discussed that fact that God is holy; that God is love; that God the Father and the Son are the same; and that God dwells in all believers as the Holy Spirit, who empowers them to serve Him. And now, we’ll take a look at an aspect of God’s character that some people find surprising. It goes along with what Paul was writing about in Romans 1 and it deals with the revelation of God’s will. Just like God’s character is no mystery, God’s will isn’t really a mystery, either. In Hebrews, we read this:

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20, 21 | TNIV)

Presumably, if God is going to equip you to do His will, then His will must be knowable. Let’s take a look at what that means, from the perspective of the one who wrote this letter to some Hebrew Christians.

Perspective

It frequently surprises Christians when I say that God’s will is no mystery, but it really isn’t. That, of course, doesn’t mean it’s always easy to discern. In fact, often it’s not. God’s will in a general sense is a piece of cake: Christians should live lives that glorify God and help their fellow man. But the specifics of God’s will take a little work to figure out. Maybe that’s why the author of this letter wrote this:

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. (Hebrews 13:18 | TNIV)

The “us” refers to the writer of the letter and those with him (or her). No serious believer engaged in the work of God can do so without knowing God’s will, and sometimes you need the prayers of others for that. Their consciences were clear. They were doing their level best to live according to the will of God. Not only that, they genuinely wanted to live honorably in every way. For the believer, that necessarily means living in accordance to His will.

That request, “pray for us,” should never be taken lightly. Believers ought to be praying about and seeking after God’s will and they ought to be praying for other believers that they may discover God’s will for them and live it.

Power

The benediction, which begins with verse 20, is one of the best in all of Scripture. The writer of Hebrews has discovered that, in spite of it all, he served a “God of peace.” That’s a beautiful way to describe our Lord. The word is shalom, and means much more than just the absence of strife. The peace that God give us permeates our whole being; it’s a restful mind, a quiet confidence that informs the soul that no matter what’s going on, things will be fine because, after all, God’s got everything under control. Of this amazing peace, we are told that is “the peace that passes all understanding,” because it doesn’t make any sense. When everybody around you thinks you should be angry or sad or frightened and you’re not, it doesn’t make sense to them. But it makes sense to you because God has given you His shalom.

The peace that we enjoy is guaranteed by the work of Jesus Christ. Or in other words, God’s peace depends on HIM, not on us; not on anything we do – like taking a vacation or getting pumped up on one drug or another. He is described as a shepherd and we are the sheep. No wonder we can live in peace with the world around us! Unlike those sheep without a shepherd, we have the Great Shepherd keeping watch over us. This is not an empty metaphor; it’s a statement of unassailable fact: Jesus Christ IS our Great Shepherd. He watches over us. He knows what’s going on in our lives. He knows ours needs. We are safe and secure because our Shepherd has shed His blood, making an eternal covenant with His sheep. Part of that covenant looks like this:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”. (Hebrews 13:5 | TNIV)

The writer of this letter is quoting from Deuteronomy, and a look at the whole quote will show you the context. Joshua was about to lead the people into the Promised Land, and here’s what God said to him:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”. (Deuteronomy 31:6 | TNIV)

That was God’s word of encouragement and promise to Joshua, and it’s for us, too. And we have it better than Joshua ever did! We have the Great Shepherd; he didn’t. We not only the word of God’s promise, but we have a guarantee to that promise: Jesus Christ.

But our Good Shepherd does more than just keep watch on the sheep; He actually empowers the sheep to do God’s will. That’s an amazing statement. Leaving the metaphor, what the writer of Hebrews is getting at is really quite profound. God enables His people to carry out His will. He gives them all the resources necessary to live a life completely in accordance to His will. For the Christian, knowing God’s will and doing God’s will are the most important things.  Whatever else may be happening in your life, nothing is as important as the will of God. That’s why, for example, the Lord’s Prayer includes, “Thy will be done.”

But here’s the thing Hebrews is teaching. It is essential Christians do the will of God. Yet even as they go about doing God’s will – which is way more than just doing good works, although good works are part of it – it is God who is working with the Christian to get it done. We work, and God works in us to do His will. It’s a win-win for believers. I have no idea why so many Christians find God’s will onerous. It isn’t. It’s not difficult to know, and it’s not difficult to do when we understand it’s God enabling you to do so. We do the work, but it is really God working in us. It’s the amazing concursus of grace. Another passage makes it even clearer:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12, 13 | TNIV)

Even as God expects us to live according to His will, He creates within us the ability to do it, and sometimes He creates the conditions around us to bring about His will. Just imagine what the world would look like if Christians – all Christians – took seriously this issue of God’s will. Just imagine what your life would look like if you took seriously God’s will.

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Who Is God, Part 4

God is holy. God is love. God the Father and the Son are One. These are some profound truths about our God. They are essential to know if you desire a full, balanced, and rewarding relationship with Him. If you believe in God, yet believe in error concerning some point of doctrine, your relationship with Him will never be what it could be. The enemy of all believers is really ignorance.

Here’s another doctrine surrounding God, though it is itself its own doctrine:

But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection. (Acts 1:8 | TLB)

That’s our Lord speaking to His disciples shortly before He left them. He called the coming of the Holy Spirit, “the promise of the Father,” and this promise would be fulfilled in the very next chapter:

Seven weeks had gone by since Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost had now arrived. As the believers met together that day, suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. (Acts 2:1 – 4 | TLB)

This amazing “promise of the Father” was really the promise of power; power to testify about Jesus Christ. And it takes supernatural power to share your faith with others. It’s not easy to be a witness for Christ, especially in these days of intolerance, laughably called “tolerant,” and political correctness, which is anything but correct. The disciples were promised power to share Jesus with the lost, and within a chapter, the believers gathered in the Upper Room were baptized in and filled with the Holy Spirit, who gave them that promised power to “speak in languages they didn’t know.” Onlookers were amazed; they thought this group was drunk! But others had another reaction:

How can this be?” they exclaimed. “For these men are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking all the native languages of the lands where we were born! (Acts 2:7, 8 | TLB)

We can discuss what “speaking in tongues” is all about another time, but for now, what happened here on this particular Day of Pentecost was a fulfillment of what Jesus had spoken of earlier. His followers were given the miraculous ability to speak other languages so that the Gospel could be heard by the thousands of visitors in Jerusalem for the celebrations.

But is this first recorded incident of the Holy Spirit enabling believers to do the will and work of God? Or is what happened in Acts just another incident in a precedent already set by God? There’s an obscure verse found in the writings of an ever more obscure Old Testament prophet:

Then he said, “This is God’s message to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty-you will succeed because of my Spirit, though you are few and weak.’” (Zechariah 4:6 | TLB)

A famous quote, which evangelical scholar D.A. Carson claims his father, a Canadian minister, coined, should be kept in mind when you’re studying any particular verse, but especially a verse like this one. The quote goes like this:

A text without a context is just a pretext.

With that clever maxim in mind, let’s look at just what prompted the prophet Zechariah to say what he said.

Who was this Zechariah?

Unlike a lot of minor prophets, we actually know some important things about Zechariah.

Subject: messages from the Lord. These messages from the Lord were given to Zechariah (son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo the prophet) in early November of the second year of the reign of King Darius. (Zechariah 1:1 | TLB)

Right away we know that Zechariah, whose name means “Jehovah remembers,” was a professional prophet, who came from a long line of prophets. And we know that he was preaching during the reign of King Darius. King Darius was the Mede who let the Jews return to their homeland after the 70 years of captivity had run its course. So, now we know the date of Zechariah’s ministry: 520 BC.

In the historical book of Nehemiah, we read of various priests who left Babylon to return to the land of Israel after King Darius issued his decree:

Here is a list of the priests who accompanied Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah.

The following were the clan leaders of the priests who served under the High Priest Joiakim: Meraiah, leader of the Seraiah clan; Hananiah, leader of the Jeremiah clan; Meshullam, leader of the Ezra clan; Jehohanan, leader of the Amariah clan; Jonathan, leader of the Malluchi clan; Joseph, leader of the Shebaniah clan; Adna, leader of the Harim clan; Helkai, leader of the Meraioth clan; Zechariah, leader of the Iddo clan; Meshullam, leader of the Ginnethon clan; Zichri, leader of the Abijah clan; Piltai, leader of the Moadiah and Miniamin clans; Shammua, leader of the Bilgah clan; Jehonathan, leader of the Shemaiah clan; Mattenai, leader of the Joiarib clan; Uzzi, leader of the Jedaiah clan; Kallai, leader of the Sallai clan; Eber, leader of the Amok clan; Hashabiah, leader of the Hilkiah clan; Nethanel, leader of the Jedaiah clan. (Nehemiah 12:1 – 7; 12 – 21 | TLB)

Now we have some historical and geographical context. Zechariah was likely a young man in 520 B.C. and had come to Jerusalem as a child in a caravan from Babylon. The Book of Ezra sheds a little more light on what young Zechariah’s ministry was all about:

But there were prophets in Jerusalem and Judah at that time-Haggai, and Zechariah (the son of Iddo)-who brought messages from the God of Israel to Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) and Jeshua (son of Jozadak), encouraging them to begin building again! So they did and the prophets helped them. (Ezra 5:1, 2 | TLB)

He, along with his pal Haggai, who also has a book in the Bible, were recruited by God to encourage Zerubbabel, who was a kind of civil governor, in getting on with the daunting task of rebuilding the Temple, which had lain in ruins for some 70 years; since the Babylonians had invaded Judah and Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar, who hauled off most of the Jews to Babylon as exiles.

The Jews that had returned home faced many hardships. Not only the Temple, but most of Jerusalem and Judah had been destroyed and the land overrun by squatters, who weren’t overjoyed that they had come home. The surrounding nations didn’t want the Jews to rebuild and did their best to discourage that from happening. You can imagine how depressing it must have been to see your parent’s home a pile of rubble. The Jews that had left their homes and jobs in Babylon only to face poverty, homelessness, and very real danger, were discouraged, frightened, and frustrated.

And on top of everything else, when Darius issued the decree allowing the Jews to return home, many, probably most of them, didn’t want to leave Babylon. They had lived in exile for 70 years. That means the generation that had lived in Judah and had seen the glory of the Temple, was long gone. Those who chose to return had no memory of living in Judah; no memory of the Temple. Two generations had grown up in exile. They now had homes and jobs and families. You can read about this in the book of Esther. They were prospering in what was Babylon, and had no desire to leave their lives to return to….what? A pile of rubble? So, you can see that the intrepid group that did return to Israel was the minority. They were the group going against popular opinion. These few exiles, in returning home, were swimming against the current.

A parable’s meaning

The first part of chapter 4 is devoted to a strange vision or parable that Zechariah had involving lampstands and olive trees. This was the fifth vision Zechariah had, and if you think it was a confusion one, you’re not alone. Even the prophet didn’t understand what God was showing him.

What is it, sir?” I asked. “What does this mean?” “Don’t you really know?” the angel asked. “No, sir,” I said, “I don’t.”. (Zechariah 4:4, 5 | TLB)

In answer to Zechariah’s question, the angel responded in a very curious way because he didn’t seem to answer the question:

Then he said, “This is God’s message to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty-you will succeed because of my Spirit, though you are few and weak.’ Therefore no mountain, however high, can stand before Zerubbabel! For it will flatten out before him! And Zerubbabel will finish building this Temple with mighty shouts of thanksgiving for God’s mercy, declaring that all was done by grace alone.”. (Zechariah 4:6, 7 | TLB)

That was God’s word of encouragement to an overwhelmed Zerubbabel: Don’t worry about your circumstances (the mountain), because God’s Spirit will give you success.

That’s what the vision was all about. As the lamp was fed with oil without human effort, so God’s Temple would be rebuilt and restored, not by the strength or ingenuity of Zerubbabel or anybody else, but by the power and provision of God. Now, of course, the people had to work, and they did, and it was hard work. The Temple wasn’t going to miraculously appear. But God’s promise was that success was guaranteed.

By the power of God’s Spirit working through human agents, like Zerubbabel and all those who engaged in the arduous task of building the Temple, the mountains of obstacles that stood in the way would be flattened.

But in that coming day, no weapon turned against you shall succeed, and you will have justice against every courtroom lie. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. This is the blessing I have given you, says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:17 | TLB)

Jesus Himself encouraged His followers with a similar admonition:

In reply Jesus said to the disciples, “If you only have faith in God-this is the absolute truth-you can say to this Mount of Olives, ‘Rise up and fall into the Mediterranean,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and have no doubt! Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you have it; it’s yours! (Matthew 11:22 – 24 | TLB)

Of course, we know there are caveats to what Jesus said. But His point is well taken. If you have the faith, pray in faith believing, and praying in the Spirit according to God’s will, you can’t lose. Recall what Paul said about this very topic:

And in the same way-by our faith-the Holy Spirit helps us with our daily problems and in our praying. For we don’t even know what we should pray for nor how to pray as we should, but the Holy Spirit prays for us with such feeling that it cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows, of course, what the Spirit is saying as he pleads for us in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans. What can we ever say to such wonderful things as these? If God is on our side, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:26 – 28; 31 | TLB)

Who Is God, Part 3

In this series on God, we have learned a couple of very important things about His nature and character. First, God is holy. This is more than just how He acts; it’s how God is. God is holy, and that means that God is separate from His creation. Every child knows this simple truth: God is in Heaven, we are on Earth. God is even separate from His children, even though we may have personal fellowship with Him through the Holy Spirit and the work of Jesus Christ, He is still “up there” and we are “down here.”

We also discovered that God is love. God not only loves, but He is love; love is part of His character. There is nothing but love about God. God loves the world – He loves all the people of the world – and He sent His only Son to save them. While God loves everybody, only some will be saved because only some will choose to choose God’s love. While God loves everybody, He especially loves those who chose to accept His invitation to become part of His family.

Speaking of that, here’s another very important thing about God: His revelation. Even though God is “up there” and we’re “down here,” God has revealed Himself to us! And He’s been doing it for a very long time. That’s the subject of this third message on the topic, “Who Is God?”

We’ll be looking at a number of verses in the anonymous letter addressed to some Hebrew Christians, but before we do, there are some verses in John’s gospel that should be looked at first.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. (John 14:6 – 11 | TNIV)

Verse six is the solution to the dilemma of all men, everywhere: Where do I go after I die? Regardless of what anybody may say, everybody fears what will become of them after their last breath has been taken. Even the atheist lives in fear of “what’s next?” Nobody wants to take a chance at death. Jesus gives the simple yet profound answer: You get to God (Heaven) through the Son of God. There is no other way to enjoy eternal life in “the good place” except through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ is the way – the only way – to God. Now, that doesn’t mean that anybody is excluded, for anybody may place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”. (John 12:23 | TNIV)

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let those who hear say, “Come!” Let those who are thirsty come; and let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 | TNIV)

So anybody is free to respond to the call of God to be saved. Anybody! Nobody is excluded from the invitation to believe and be saved. Nobody. Of course, God in His foreknowledge knows who will and who won’t believe, but the invitation goes out, because God is nothing if not fair and just.

The point of what Jesus was saying to Philip was simply this: God is in Him and He is in God; the two of Them are inseparable. In other words, if a person is curious about God, then he should take notice of Jesus. If a person is curious about what God thinks about this or that, they should study Jesus. The two are one.

Our Lord is the ultimate self-expression of God. In an odd way, almost everybody knows this fact of God and they acknowledge it, at least one time a year when they sing the words Charles Wesley wrote:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity.
Pleased with man as man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.

And, of course, we know “Immanuel” means “God with us.” So it’s not a secret, this marvelous, miraculous fact of God’s self revelation. But you may wonder, when did God start doing this? For that, we turn to the New Testament letter to the Hebrews.

God, the revealer

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways…. (Hebrews 1:1 | TNIV)

That’s how the ultra-modern, up-to-date TNIV translated the Greek, but in this case, the good old KJV comes a little closer to what that Greek really means: “at various times and in various ways.” It may seem like an insignificant difference to you, but here’s why the KJV’s rendering of the Greek is so important to know. We’re learning here not only that God spent a long time revealing Himself to His people, but that He didn’t do it all at once, or all in once place, or always in the same way. The process of this self-revelation was a continuous one, and it was a revelation that more than one person received. God, in the past (that means throughout the Old Testament) took great care to reveal bits and pieces of Himself to “our ancestors,” that is, to many, many Jews of the past. But, as we’ll learn, nobody in the past had a complete picture of God. Nobody. Not Isaiah. Not Jeremiah. Not David. Not Daniel. Not Moses. Nobody.

Throughout the Old Testament, or “in the past” according to the author of this letter to the Hebrews, God showed some important aspects of Himself to His people through the prophets and other means. Back then, God’s people learned things like this:

• God was the Creator. From His mind and power came the material universe – all that we can see, touch, and experience – and immaterial universe – the spiritual realm that we have yet to experience.
• God was the one who established the laws of morality and ethics. He set Himself up as the judge of His people’s hearts and actions.
• God made covenants or agreements with His people. And while historically His people were always reneging on their end of the covenants, God never did. He always kept His word.
• God, as awesome and transcendent as He is, is still vitally interested in the individual. He spoke to people. He appeared to people as “the angel of the Lord.” He is seen caring for people’s needs and providing even the small things for His people’s comfort.
• God is seen as forever faithful. Though He got angry with His people and judged them, God never, ever abandoned them or walked away from them.

So, in a general sense, God revealed some astounding things about Himself to His people. And He kept it up. Continuously, all throughout the centuries of the Old Testament. But then something happened, and everything changed.

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:2 | TNIV)

Contrasted with “in the past” is the phrase, “in these last days.” In concrete ways in history, God was revealing Himself. But now, in our time, something has changed. Now God is revealing Himself in His Son. Whereas in the past, God spoke through prophets, now He’s doing it through His Son. And the Son gives us a much more complete picture of the Father, because as we learned from what John wrote, and what Jesus Himself said, He and the Father are one.

That little word, “but,” that begins this second verse, tells us something important. The revelation of God throughout the Old Testament was good, BUT, with Jesus coming into the world, it’s now perfect. The revelation of God through His Son is perfect and complete. You’ll notice that now God’s revelation doesn’t come to us in “various was,” but ONE way: the Son. Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God. Or put another way, only in Jesus Christ do we get a perfect picture of God the Father.

“In the past,” God relayed His messages through human vessels, and humans are imperfect at best. And when God intervened in nature and things like that, not everybody saw it and it could be misinterpreted. But “in the last days,” in our day today, God spoke through Jesus – the Son – directly. This is vitally important because of the next verse:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3 | TNIV)

Jesus is the “exact representation” of God’s being. In the Greek, that’s a startling declaration. “Exact representation” is the translation of a single Greek word, charakter, which means “expression” or “stamp.” Jesus is the exact “expression” of God. He is not an approximation of God’s character, but an exact copy or version of God’s essential character – His being – has been “stamped” onto Jesus like an image is stamped onto a coin.

So when you read the Gospels and you study Jesus’ interaction with people, you’re really reading about how God interacts with people. When you see Jesus crying at the tomb of a friend who was cut down in the prime of his life, that’s also God’s reaction to a situation full of sorrow and sadness. When you see Jesus getting angry with hypocrites, that’s how God feels about them. When you see Jesus having compassion on the sick, the lame, the hungry, that’s how God feels.

God’s revelation in Jesus is complete. You can’t learn more about God any other way. He’s not revealing anything else about Himself to anybody anymore. Jesus was and is the final, ultimate revelation of God to man.

Who Is God, Part 2

If a Christian wants to have a complete, balanced, healthy relationship with God, then he must know God; he must make it his quest to know all that is knowable about the Lord. Since what may be known about God is only found in the Bible, it goes without saying that knowing what the Bible says about the subject is essential. Too bad so many well-meaning Christians don’t understand this simplest of truths. God is not known by singing hymns or listening to gospel songs all day. He is not known by reading books about Him, although they may be helpful. He is not known by praying, although you should pray. God is known by knowing the Bible.

It may surprise you to know that human beings actually have an innate need to know God. One of the Greek words for “man” is anthropos, which literally means, “the one looking up.” In a way, man is looking for God, though he may not know it. Because of that, man is a praying creature. Even people who have no relationship with God will utter words of prayer during some crisis, “just in case,” they would say. Man is not an animal, but he may become like one because man without God has no clue how special and dignified a creation he really is. Man is special because he alone was created in the “image” and “likeness” of his Creator. That sets man apart from all of creation and makes him the crowing creative achievement of God the Creator.

God, the Creator, is a holy God, meaning that He is separate from His creation. He is above it and beyond it. God is in Heaven and we are on Earth, so God is separated from His greatest creation, even from the people He redeemed by the blood of His Son.  God, in some respects, continues to be separate from them. We may enjoy precious fellowship with God, but He is still “up there,” and we are still “down here.” When our salvation is finally consummated and we have been ushered into the actual presence of God in Heaven, that impassable gulf will finally be breached.

God is holy, but God is also love. And that’s the subject of this second message in the series.

A statement of fact

God is love, and God also loves the people He created. The classic verses on this subject is one we all know so well, we could cited it with our Bible closed. Here it is from the KJV, the version we probably have memorized:

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

There is no more profound verse on the love of God for sinful man than John 3:16. God loved “the world,” that is, God loved the people He created who are now lost in sin, so He offered His only Son to be their atoning sacrifice, thereby making it possible for sinful man to believe and have faith and, and a result, enjoy everlasting life with Him in glory. This verse along with a couple of others, perfectly captures the love of God for the people He created:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 | NIV84)

One of the sinners Christ died for was one Henry Moorehouse. Do you know who he is? He’s also known as “Harry Moorehouse, the English Evangelist.” He was born in Manchester and as a young man he spent considerable time in local jailhouse, and after being bailed out time and again by his very patient father, young Harry found himself a soldier in the army, where his talents for fighting and getting into trouble could be put to better use.

Upon getting out of the army, Harry happened to pass by a tent revival meeting where Richard Weaver was preaching. It must’ve been a raucous service because Harry, thinking there was a fight going on inside the tent, buttoned up his jacket and raced in, ready to fight. Of course, there was no fight, just an excited preacher. Harry, disappointed, turned to leave, but then he heard the one word that would forever change his sorry life: JESUS. Harry couldn’t leave that tent; Jesus got a hold him and wouldn’t let him go. In an instant – in a moment of time – all the rage and anger of Harry’s heart melted away and this restless wanderer became a different man. He heard about the love of Jesus and that love invaded his heart and made him a “new creation.”

You likely never heard of “Harry Moorehouse, the English Evangelist,” but you probably heard of one of his friends, D.L. Moody, the American Bible teacher and preacher who would found The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which is still going strong today. One of the men who influenced Moody the most was Moorehouse! Once, Moody hosted Moorehouse at his Institute, and for an entire week, The English Evangelist preached on John 3:16. An entire week’s worth of sermons featuring that single, life-changing verse.

The preaching style of Moorehouse, according to Moody, was very different from his own. Instead of preaching that God was ready to judge the sinner and execute perfect justice, Moorehouse told the congregation that God wanted every person to be saved because He loved them. Moody said of his preaching:

I didn’t know God thought so much of me. It was wonderful to hear the way he brought out Scripture. He went from Genesis to Revelation and preached that in all ages God loved the sinner.

Moorehouse ended the last sermon of the week like this:

For seven nights I have been trying to tell you how much God loves you, and this poor stammering tongue of mine will not let me. If I could ascend Jacob’s ladder and ask Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, to tell you how much love God the Father has for this poor lost world, all that Gabriel could say is: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 | KJV)

An example from the Old Testament

In trying to understand the love of God, there are are some verses in the Old Testament that answer a lot questions on the subject. In the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, a book that a lot of Christians think is all about tithing, we read this startling verse:

I have loved you,” says the Lord.“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob…”. (Malachi 1:2 | NIV84)

God declared to His then-backslidden people, “I have loved you,” and these people in their backslidden state, questioned that love. But God was adamant: “I HAVE LOVED you…” These people had lost their love for God, and therefore their spiritual senses had become dull; they honestly thought God had stopped loving them. As if that could ever happen! But a spiritually dull person is almost always wrong when it comes to spiritual matters.

To prove to his wayward people that He did, in fact, love them, the Lord pointed to His favored treatment of Israel (Jacob) over their ancient enemy, Edom (Esau). You’ll recall that Jacob and Esau were brothers, and Israel and Edom were the nations that descended from each of them respectively. The state of Israel – prosperous and thriving for much of its history – versus the state of Edom – always at war with somebody and always struggling to get by – proved that God preferred Israel over Edom. If their hearts hadn’t been so hardened, Israel would have remembered how God protected them historically, and fought for them, and freed them from their captivity.

In looking at the love of God for Israel, we can learn a couple of very salient points about the love of God in general.

God’s love is not earned or deserved

Looking at what the Lord said through His prophet Malachi, this what we read:

I have loved you,” says the Lord.“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Malachi 1:2-3 | NIV84)

Can God really hate? It may seem strange that in a sermon about “God is love” that we read that God hated a person is a bit shocking. God actually hates a lot things; sin, lying, pride, and other things, but here the word “hate” is used in the sense of “preference.” God preferred Israel over Edom. And His treatment of Israel proved that He preferred them over Edom. The Edomites were nasty people, just as Esau was a nasty man.

But on the other hand, Jacob wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, either. He was a liar, a cheat, and a conniver, and con artist. Yet God preferred him over his brother? Here is a point about God’s love: Nobody can earn it and nobody deserves it. Jacob didn’t any more than his brother did, yet here we have it stated that God preferred Jacob over Esau. The choice of Jacob was God’s sovereign choice, not influenced by anything or anybody. It was a choice made in grace.

God’s dealings with us are always out of grace. We are saved by grace, we are empowered for Christian service by grace, and we are kept by grace. The fact that God loves us is an act of grace that no believer deserves, yet enjoys nonetheless.

God’s love never changes

When we speak of God’s love, we’re talking about agape love. This kind of divine love is above all other forms of love. Agape love means, first of all, that God’s love for the believer is absolutely perfect – God cannot love you more and He cannot love you less. God’s love for you is perfect. God’s love won’t lessen when you misbehave nor grow when you do something righteous. His love is perfect. His love is constant. Like the North Star; God’s love is always there.

Secondly, because His love is perfect, it never changes. In the Hebrew, the force of Malachi 3:2, 3 isn’t just “Jacob I love and Esau I hate,” rather, it’s “Jacob I loved and I continue to love.” It’s important to note this because as God spoke these words to Israel through His prophet, Israel had become a corrupt, discouraged, backslidden nation. They were lazy in their faith and treated God with contempt. Yet God continued to love them just as He always had. God’s love for His people didn’t change because of their misbehavior.

God’s love is truly amazing. It’s almost beyond comprehension that God is able to love like that. But it’s a fact; it’s in the Bible.

God loves everybody

And so we return to John 3:16 for the last point. God’s love is universal. If His love isn’t conditional, then it naturally follows that He loves “the world,” just as John said. This is what we could call God’s “merciful love.” The result of this “merciful love” is spelled out by Peter:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 | NIV84)

God wants everybody to be saved. That’s why Jesus is said to have been “coming soon” for over 2,000 years! It’s the slowest “soon coming” in history! But that’s why. God is waiting for the last possible moment to get as many sinners saved. God’s love is universal, but salvation isn’t. Not everybody is going to get saved. And therein lies the rub. Don’t confuse God’s love for the sinner with salvation. The love of God compels God to call all people to repent and believe. But the love of God doesn’t compel Him to save everybody with no corresponding actions on the part of the sinner.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Is God , Part 1

What do you know about God? How well do you understand Him? If you are a Christian, then God should be the most important Person in your life, therefore you should know Him very well and know all about Him. Sadly, a lot of Christians are blissfully unaware of even the most basic facts of God – His nature, character, His divine attributes. How embarrassing it will be for you when you stand before God and you realize you knew more about your spouse, or your kids, or your co-workers than you ever did about the God created you, saved you, and made you His child. For the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at what the Bible reveals about God so that we can all get to know Him better, and in doing so we’ll appreciate Him more and love Him with a deeper, more informed love.

Just to get us started, let’s take a very interesting verse; something that the apostle Paul wrote to his friend, young Pastor Timothy:

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10 | TNIV)

Right away your probably see something in what Paul wrote that looks a little off, given what we know about salvation: “God…is the Savior of all people…especially of those who believe.” The question that should pop into your head is, “Who else is God saving except those who believe?” What did Paul mean when he wrote, “especially of those who believe?” We’ll delve into that, and the rest this verse in detail later on in this series, but for now, I want to focus on another phrase of great import: “We have put our hope in the living God.” That’s the essence, really, of what salvation is all about: Trusting God. It only goes to reason that if you know more about God, then you’ll have more hope. Or, we could say, the more you know about God, the more hopeful you will be. And hope is an important thing:

Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 24:14 | TNIV)

As we begin to learn all that we can about God, the first aspect of His Person is the foundation of all the others. God is holy. When we talk about the holiness of God, what do we mean?

Holiness of God

Let’s go back to the beginning. In the book Exodus, we read this concerning the holiness of God:

Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11 | TNIV)

That verse hints at what is involved in God’s holiness. Somehow it relates to the fact that no other god, and of course those other “gods” refer to little gods created in the minds of men, comes close to being like the true God.

This aspect of God’s character means that God is absolutely morally pure. God cannot sin nor can He tolerate sin. You may think that “holy” means things like “good” or “well behaved” or “decent,” but it may surprise you to know that the root meaning of “holy” is “separated” or “separate from.” But in what sense is God separated? First, and most obvious, God is separated from man: He is in Heaven, we are on earth. There is a distance between God and man; we don’t occupy the same time and space. But God is also separated from man in His nature and character. For example:

• God is perfect, man is imperfect;
• God is divine, man is human;
• God is morally perfect, man is sinful and corrupt;

Very simply put, holiness is the distinction that sets God the Creator apart from all that He created, including man.

And throughout the Bible, God tried to drive this point home to His people. For example, in the written words of Scripture, we read all about how God is holy. But even when He supernaturally revealed Himself to man – in visions, for example – He did so in such a way to show how holy or separate He is. There are several examples of this, but Isaiah’s vision of the transcendent God is maybe the best.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ( Isaiah 6:1 – 4 | TNIV)

What an awesome scene! No earthly king or potentate could compete with it. That’s what God was trying to impress upon Isaiah: God is NOT like anybody or anything on earth or elsewhere. That’s what the holiness of God means. And that’s what separation looks like.

Did the coming of Jesus change any of that? In other words, is God still separated from redeemed man?

Another side of God’s holiness

In John’s first letter, we read this:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. (1 John 1:5, 6 | TNIV)

You don’t see the word “holy” in those verses, but that’s what John was writing about. Instead of writing “God is holy,” John wrote, “God is light.” Of course, light has nothing to do with holiness, but John contrasts the idea that “God is light” with the fact that there is no darkness in Him. There’s that idea of separation again – light is separate from darkness. Light is not the same dark and we all know that when you turn a light on, the darkness goes away – the two cannot co-exist in the same time and space. God must forever be separate from sinful man. The two cannot co-exist. That’s essentially what John was getting at when he wrote: “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” In other words, if a person – any person – claims to be a Christian but lives a life steeped in sin, then they are lying about being a Christian. They can’t be. Now, that’s not to say that Christians are sinless. They sin. But, because they have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, they are able to have some fellowship with God. They can’t have that fellowship apart from Christ.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 | TNIV)

This is absolutely essential for people to understand – John needed his readers to understand it. If a person wants to have fellowship with God and with the Son of God, he needs to understand what makes that fellowship possible. Because God is holy, He remains necessarily separate from sinful human beings – that’s all people, by the way. But because the blood of Christ washes away our sins, we are able to experience, to a certain degree, the presence of God on an ongoing basis.

P.T. Forsyth, in his work, “Cruciality of the Cross,” made this statement about the blood of Christ:

The blood of Christ stands not simply for the sting of sin on God but the scourge of God on sin, not simply for God’s sorrow over sin but for God’s wrath upon sin.

That’s a fancy way of saying this: Sin caused Jesus to bleed, and God caused Jesus to bleed. Sin, in the sense that our Lord was beaten up and stabbed by sinful man. God, in the sense that His Son was being punished for your sins, not His; He’s forever sinless. The Son of God bore the wrath of God the Father in His body, on the Cross. And because He did that, Christians can enjoy the presence of God. Now, it’s not a perfect presence though. Because there is still a real separation between God and even His children. He’s still “up there” and we’re “down here.” But through the work of Jesus Christ and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, we are able to be in God’s presence, wherever we are, any time.

Summary

To sum up, there are three things we need to remember when we say God is holy. First, there is a chasm or a great gulf between God and sinner.

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1, 2 | TNIV)

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habakkuk 1:13 | TNIV)

But not only is the sinner cut off from God, God is cut off from the sinner. Before man fell from grace, God and man walked together in the garden. Their fellowship occupied the same space and time. Now, though, that kind of unbroken fellowship is impossible.

Second, if a man wants to approach God, he must do so based on the merits of Another. No man can come into the presence of God because of his sin problem. But, thank God, Jesus came and has made that free access possible.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1, 2 | TNIV)

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18 | TNIV)

Lastly, even though we have free access to God through Jesus Christ, we should still approach Him with reverence and godly fear.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28, 29 | TNIV)

Why fear? Because God is holy and you aren’t. So you should rightly fear being in His presence. When you understand what the holiness of God is, then you will have a right understanding of how bad sin is and what it does to you.

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4, 5 | TNIV)

That is an example of how we should all go into God’s presence, in an attitude of  humiliation, contrition, and of dependence.  When we see ourselves correctly, we will have a correct view of the holiness of God.

What Is Man, Part 5

Since I’ve introduced the person of Satan as the instigator of all of man’s problems with sin, it might be a good idea to deal with this Prince of Darkness. Even though the study of Satan is separate from that of man, because the influence of Satan on man is so obvious, knowing a little about our adversary would be helpful.

Probably the best non-Biblical observation on the Devil’s character comes his own mouth in Milton’s Paradise Lost:

Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.

Of course, only the Devil would so arrogant as to say such a thing, but that single sentence gives an accurate sidelight on the essential attitude of the Devil. But there is an abundance of information in the Bible about him that Christians should know about. And it’s vitally important to know as much about the Devil as possible. Sun Tzu observed in The Art of War,

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

One of the reasons why so many believers struggle against the Devil and why spiritual victories seem few and far between is simply a matter of ignorance. As Sun Tzu wrote, a victorious fighter knows both himself and his enemy.

Origins

Where did the Devil come from, anyway? God certainly didn’t create him; that would go against God’s nature. Besides, there are verses like these that prove God could not have created Satan:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:3, 4 | TNIV)

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…. (James 1:13 | TNIV)

As far as what the Bible says about the origin of Satan, or the Devil, there are two main sources found in the writings of the prophets.

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12 – 15 | TNIV)

Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ” ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more. ‘ “. (Ezekiel 28:12 – 19 | TNIV)

If you take the time to read both of those references in context, you’ll notice that in neither case is the Devil being addressed directly. In fact, two earthly kings, of Babylon and of Tyre, are being addressed. It’s obvious, though, that while the prophets were dealing with two earthly kings, their words went beyond those two kings to speak of something else. The background of the kings of Babylon and Tyre would be helpful. Both were proud, arrogant rulers who demanded complete loyalty from their citizens and that they be worshipped as gods. God, speaking through His prophets, was warning these kings by showing them how He treated the blasphemous pride of His own angel. If Lucifer, the greatest angel ever created by God, was punished for blasphemy, how could these kings think they would get away with it?

Lucifer, the beautiful angel became Satan, a word that means “the adversary.” Primarily, Satan is God’s adversary, yet he is also our adversary by extension. The picture of Satan as a hideous demonic-looking creature with horns, cloven hooves, a long tail, holding a pitchfork, could not be further from what he appears like.

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15 | TNIV)

And so Lucifer was cast out of Heaven to the earth, along with all the angels that sided with him.

Now, you may wonder where the name “Lucifer” came from. It’s only found in the KJV’s translation of Isaiah 14:12 –

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Modern translations, like the TNIV, don’t see “Lucifer” as a proper name. It’s a word that simply means “morning star” or “day star.”

Satan’s character

The most information we have as to Satan’s character comes from his various names. As I stated earlier, the word “Satan” means “adversary.” That’s a very apt name because it describes his essential character. Satan is one who opposes God; he stands in opposition to everything God wants. From the beginning, in the Garden for example, Satan was against God’s plan of redemption. This is hinted at with Genesis 3:15 –

From now on you and the woman will be enemies, as will your offspring and hers. You will strike his heel, but he will crush your head.”. (TLB)

That’s the Lord pronouncing a curse of the serpent, but ultimately the curse finds it mark. Satan will attempt to destroy Jesus Christ (the “offspring” of the woman here) but will fail. But even before history gets around to Jesus, we can see Satan attempting to corrupt the whole family of Adam and Eve, through which the final “offspring” of the woman would come. Cain killed a brother. Seth would produce the line that would result in the birth of mankind’s deliverer. He was godly, but even he eventually became corrupt. In fact, by the time of Noah, many generations on from Adam and Eve, the whole population of the earth had been engulfed in sin and moral depravity. Only Noah and his family remained untainted by sin. One family out of many. But it was Satan’s doing; in corrupting the whole human race, he had hoped to thwart God’s plan to save it. He was determined to make it impossible for God to fulfill His promise to send a deliverer.

Noah’s son, Shem, would become Abraham’s ancestor, from whom would descend God’s chosen people, through whom God would save the world. It’s astounding to study the history of Israel. It’s the history of one persecution after another. This is true today, and it was sure true in the Old Testament. Ishmael opposed Isaac, Esau tried to kill Jacob, and Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews.

Satan is also determined to destroy another chosen people, the Church of Jesus Christ. He does this via:

False teachers within the church –

But the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some in the church will turn away from Christ and become eager followers of teachers with devil-inspired ideas. These teachers will tell lies with straight faces and do it so often that their consciences won’t even bother them. (1 Timothy 4:1, 2 | TLB)

Persecution from outside the church –

Stop being afraid of what you are about to suffer-for the devil will soon throw some of you into prison to test you. You will be persecuted for ‘ten days.’ Remain faithful even when facing death and I will give you the crown of life-an unending, glorious future. (Revelation 2:10 | TLB)

The Devil means “slanderer,” and he certainly does slander God and God’s people. He slandered God in the Garden and all you have to do look around at what secular America thinks about born again Christians and the evangelical church to know that he spreads lies about us.

In Revelation 9:11, Satan is referred to as Appollyon and Abbadon (Greek and Hebrew words), which are words that mean “destroyer.” This is another aspect of his character: The Devil exists to destroy everything God has done and to destroy God’s people, the Jews and the Church.

Also in Revelation 12:9, Satan is called the serpent. Not only does this bring our minds back to what he did in the Garden, but what comes into your mind when you think about a snake or a serpent? I suspect nothing good!

In a couple of places in the New Testament, Satan is referred to as “the god of this world.”

The time of judgment for the world has come-and the time when Satan, the prince of this world, shall be cast out. (John 12:31 | TLB)

If the Good News we preach is hidden to anyone, it is hidden from the one who is on the road to eternal death.  Satan, who is the god of this evil world, has made him blind, unable to see the glorious light of the Gospel that is shining upon him or to understand the amazing message we preach about the glory of Christ, who is God. (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4 | TLB)

Satan holds sway over most of the world, making sure most people live lives outside of God’s will. That there are wars, poverty, corruption, and other nasty things in abundance, proves how evil and potentially dangerous the world is to man, and especially to believers.

We know that we are children of God and that all the rest of the world around us is under Satan’s power and control. (1 John 5:19 | TLB)

It’s understandable that Satan hates God so much, but why does he hate man so much? In particular, why does Satan hate Christians so much? He hates the image of God in all human beings. Satan’s domain is the Earth and he is surrounded by creatures that look like God, the Person responsible for his exile. He hates the destiny of man, because man is destined for eternal bliss and happiness, something Satan can never know. The Devil hates us for a thousand reasons and he is so envious all human beings.

An ancient Jewish thinker wrote this:

But for the envy of the devil, death came into the world, and they that follow him are on his side.

What Is Man, Part 4

Man today is not exactly how God created him. Man today is the result of sin. God didn’t create sin and the sin nature that exists inside every human being isn’t there because of anything God did, but rather man’s sin nature is there because man became a sinner.

The fact of sin can’t be denied. Just watch or listen to the news: murders, wars, rapes, and other crimes against humanity are all there. Though sin can’t be denied, that doesn’t stop certain groups from trying to do so:

Atheism denies God, therefore it denies sin also. Atheists may, and often do, decry moral violence and even immorality, but that’s as far as it goes with them. They view sin as a shortcoming or a failure of man, caused by the human condition. In fact, sin is committed against God, which is why atheists are wrong.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Psalms 51:4 | NIV84)

Determinism teaches that free will is really only an illusion; that man acts (sins) in accordance to his inner impulses or his circumstances. In other words, poverty is what causes wrongdoing. People who believe this believe that if man’s circumstances could be improved, his behavior would also. Or they think that evil in a man can be educated out of him.

Hedonism is another way to reason sin out existence. This idea is perfectly illustrated by an adulterous spouse who excuses their sin by reasoning, “God wants me to be happy.”

There are all kinds of ways concocted by man to dismiss the idea of sin, but they all refuse to acknowledge the nature and character of God. Sin is not a shortcoming or a mistake or an illness or anything like that. Biblically, sin is an outright act of rebellion against God.

The origin of sin, Genesis 3

Genesis 3 details how sin entered the world and entered man. In all, there are several aspects of sin that are worth thinking about.

Temptation

If Genesis 3 shows how sin came into the world and into man, then the stage is set one chapter back.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8-9 | NIV84)

God made a place – a garden – for man to live in, and by all accounts it was perfect for him. Man had everything he needed, thanks to God’s thoughtful provision. But in the middle of the garden were two special trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What was the purpose of these two “trees of destiny?” It’s all speculation, of course, but it seems likely to view these trees as a visual means by which God was trying to teach man a very simple lesson. From anywhere in the Garden, man would see these trees and be reminded of two things: his life came from God and that his life depended on choosing to listen to and pay attention to what God says.

Long after the Fall, God was still trying to get this very simple concept through to His people, but this time it was in the form of words:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Deuteronomy 30:15-18 | NIV84)

A lot of Bible readers wonder why God would do that; why would God take a chance like that with the people He created? The answer lies in the fact of man’s free will. I have always called “free will” the second greatest gift God gave human beings. A loving God would want the people He created to choose Him willingly and out of love. God wouldn’t have wanted a bunch of robots loving Him. Therefore, the trees would have represented a test – a way for man to continually be reminded of God’s provision and his own obligation.  But a lot of Bible readers get a little confused. The trees weren’t the source of temptation. The temptation to sin came from somewhere else.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 | NIV84)

The source of temptation was the serpent – the devil. The serpent, before the Fall, was probably a beautiful creature. When it spoke to Eve, she held a conversation with it, she didn’t run away. The serpent was what Satan used to get man’s attention. Satan had fallen from grace long before God created man. That’s why he is referred to as an ancient evil in Revelation:

The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9 | NIV84)

We don’t know when Satan, then called Lucifer, was cast out of Heaven, but it was long, long before the events of Genesis 3.

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12 – 15 | TNIV)

Satan is a spirit, and he always works through an available agent. In the Garden, he worked through a serpent. In the New Testament he worked through Peter, who had no idea what was going on.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”. (Matthew 16:22, 23 | TNIV)

We can learn a lot about the nature of temptation by looking at how Satan tempted Eve. Here’s the account:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? ” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”. (Genesis 3:1 – 5 | TNIV)

Satan is the master of the subtle deception. In Genesis, he’s called “crafty.” Over in the New Testament, we read this:

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15 | TNIV)

And he’s subtle; he actually used God’s own words, although he twisted them to get Eve’s attention. He got Eve’s attention, and she actually tried to reason with Satan, and that was her big mistake. She was hooked from the get-go. Then he made it all about God, not about her. Satan got her mind off herself and onto God and the “unfairness” of it all. The temptation seemed to be, “eat the forbidden fruit and become like God,” but really the temptation was to think badly about God; to think that God was actually withholding something good from the people He created and gave everything to!

Guilty conscience

The moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened. Satan was right: The fruit gave them more knowledge, but it wasn’t the kind of knowledge they were hoping for. They realized they were naked. Instead of become Godlike, they saw their own state and were embarrassed and afraid. That’s a guilty conscience. And like the child who tries to hide a broken vase, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God because they knew that they had done wrong.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8 | TNIV)

That’s a significant statement: “…they hid from the Lord among the trees of the garden.” In other words, Adam and Eve hid among God’s blessings and provision. That’s exactly what Christians do today; we sin and then we hide among what God has given us. But nobody can hide from God; He sees all. And though judgment for sin may be long in coming, make no mistake: It’s coming. Nobody “gets away with it.”

Adam and Eve knew they had done wrong and not only did they try to hide from God, but they tried to cover up their sin by making some clothes to wear. They sewed some leaves together. It was a wholly inadequate covering though and in an act of grace, God made the couple some clothes:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21 | TNIV)

Of course, the lesson there is that man’s sin can only be “covered” or dealt with by a work of God and the sacrifice of another. In the case of Adam and Eve, an animal or animals had to be sacrifice so that their sin could be covered, and in the case of mankind since then, the sacrifice was the Son of God, who gave His life and shed His blood to wash away sin.

Consequences of sin

When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought upon themselves the personal consequences of sin. Immediately their close relationship with God was ruined. Though God still communicated with them and worked with them, He no longer “walked” with them in garden. They had alienated themselves from their Creator.

The consequences of sin came in the form of curses from God. These curses, though, weren’t just on Adam and Eve (and the serpent). They touch every single descendent of the first human couple. We call this “original sin,” which is simply the inclination to sin that is present in every single human being. Innocence was lost. Adam’s “original sin” resulted in the corruption of every baby born since, with the exception of Jesus Christ, who was and is sinless.

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. ” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”. (Genesis 3:16 – 19 | TNIV)

But if you look closely at those curses, you’ll see that even nature was adversely affected by human sin. Adam and Eve’s sin had dreadful and far reaching consequences that are felt to this day, and will be felt until the Lord returns and makes things right, with both man and nature.

So then, sin originated in the free choice of man. Rather than trusting God and believing in His Word and living in obedience to His will, the first humans willingly chose another way. But in choosing to go their own way, Adam and Eve’s relationship with God was ruptured. And all human relationships, which should come as easy as breathing, became corrupt and almost impossible to maintain. What happened between Cain and Abel proves this.


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