A Short Survey of
God’s Word, Your Personal Word
Vincent M. Ragay
Baguio City, Philippines
Copyright 1999 by Vincent M. Ragay
Most of the Bible verses quoted in this book are taken from the New International Version (NIV)
ABOUT THIS BOOK
THE BETTER QUESTION:
The question to ask is not: Is the Bible true? It is: What if the Bible is true?
This series of studies on the Bible is not designed to be a replacement for reading the Bible itself but to serve only as a guide for new students of the Bible who need a tutor who will help them become familiar with its basic structure and essential meaning. THE EARLIER ONE LEARNS TO READ THE SCRIPTURES BY ONESELF WITHOUT ANY HELP FROM ANOTHER PERSON OR GUIDEBOOK, THE BETTER. For God promises wisdom to anyone who earnestly desires it. (James 1:5-8)
On the other hand, many believers have found it hard to open up their faith to others, especially if they have not had any training or experience in evangelistic work. The writer, therefore, also hopes to provide young and old Christians with a friendly tool to lead relatives and friends to Jesus Christ without having to face them and to endure the discomfort of seeing their surprised or even intimidating looks. All preachers have gone through this stage and usually retain some unfounded fears or self-doubts even after so much practice. Yet, not all of us have the ability to teach although most of us would want to share the gospel in any way we can. Handing out this book (which is, as we said, designed to lead people to read the Bible itself) to others will help ease the tension involved in leading others to Christ and still assure oneself that the one who reads it will come to know Christ. For when a person approaches the Bible with the proper frame of mind, then God will open that person’s heart to His truth.
But with so many books and materials such as this, why come out with one more? Are we claiming that this book is better than the thousands of others available out there?
The task of preaching God’s Kingdom has gone on for two thousand years. How long it will continue until Christ returns, we do not know. But the work of reaching out to people must continue and this is the writer’s share in seeing to it that this task would be multiplied so many times by teaching more and more people who will also teach or lead others.
Moreover, the spate of conflicting Christian groups preaching through the various media has all but made evangelism a kind of free-for-all venture or enterprise that the common person looking for answers and for solace would not know where to start. Many end up choosing what comes along first. Until a better option causes them to move on. And on and on. . . .
This survey is a product of twenty-five years of active search for the essential gospel message. It adds nothing new to the basic teaching found in Christ’s words but goes beyond that by eliminating many wrong concepts that had been laid down by false teachers and, thus, clarifying the issues that have plagued many people for so long. The Bible was meant to be understood. Through this study, we hope that more and more people will finally come to the awareness of its plain divine message.
Surprising as it may seem, this book does not have the uneasy burden of promoting or protecting any religious group’s peculiar interpretation of the gospel. The writer considers himself a servant of God and a citizen of the Kingdom that Christ established during the time of the apostles. He does not belong to any denominational or fellowship group that has been registered under a particular name or title; nor does he intend to put up one.
The Kingdom of God already exists and the task at hand is to bring as many people into the one fold of God. This can not be done by people who claim to be in the Body of Christ and yet do not work toward bringing all believers under that single rule or kingdom of heaven – that is, the family of believers not registered in any country as such, but registered in Heaven in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Whether we accept it or not, religious denominations, in general, have their individual group’s unique interests in mind, not the unity of all believers which Christ earnestly prayed for. Their publications and broadcasts will advertise their group’s name – and sadly, their group’s reading of the gospel. (We do not question their sincerity or condemn their good works, only their having caused the dismemberment of Christ’s body and the corruption of His teachings.)
This confusing state of affairs has led the writer to contribute this tiny drop of water in the vast ocean of divided Christianity in the hope that a few souls might find their way to the ONE and UNDIVIDED Kingdom of Christ. Essential Faith can only be attained when we all see and practice the pure and simple message of Christ.
Read on and discover for yourself what the gospel truly teaches. The time has come for all honest seekers to rest in Christ’s promises.
Finally, unlike a correspondence course where there are questions to be answered and to be checked by a distant teacher, this survey allows the reader to go along at his or her own pace. It may take a person a day or two to go through this study. Some may take a month or even a year. The important thing is that it will lead that person – hopefully, as soon as possible – to go directly to the Bible to confirm the original meaning of the Author of the Bible, who is no other than God Himself.
1999 November 1, Baguio City, Philippines
INTRODUCING THE BIBLE – GOD’S WORD
The Bible is the Word of God; that is, it contains words written by about 40 different men who were inspired by God to write down His messages at different times in history and in different places. The 66 books that comprise the Bible contain no real contradictions and present a unified and consistent heavenly message. Being then the Word of God, what we read in the Bible is the One Truth. Incredibly, this Book of books has survived the ravages of time and the forces of evil directed against it and remains today as the most widely-read and translated book of all times.
The Bible’s authority is proven by the following three primary evidences which have so far not been refuted but rather confirmed by new discoveries in Archeology and through advances in science:
1. The Bible is scientifically correct.
When we read the very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, we are immediately introduced to the five basic physical elements of the Universe: time, energy, force, space and matter. These are things we often take for granted yet without them nothing at all in the Universe can exist. The verse reads: “IN THE BEGINNING (time), GOD (His power is the source of all energy) CREATED (the force released by that power causing the creation of all things that have being and move) THE HEAVENS (space) AND THE EARTH (matter).”
Although not a book of science, certain verses in this book are consistent with widely-accepted scientific principles. A classic example is the story of an oceanographer who read the reference in the Old Testament (OT) about the “rivers of the deep” in the book of Job and proceeded to discover the presence of deep-ocean currents.
Yet, a more amazing fact involves the case of computer engineers in Maryland, USA who became baffled one day to find their computer stalled in spite of repeated checks on the program. They had inputted all ancient and present data regarding the positions of the Earth, the Moon, the planets and the stars; but when they ran the program, it stopped for no clear reason. They soon discovered that sometime in the past, exactly 24 hours had been missing. A member of the group who happened to be a Bible-reader mentioned the fact that Joshua once prayed for the sun to stop during a long-drawn battle at a place called Ai. And the story goes on to say that for almost 24 hours, God caused the Sun to stand still and provide light until the Israelites defeated their enemies. After inputting this data, however, the computer still could not account for 40 minutes. Going back to the Bible, they found that God, through the prophet Isaiah, had caused the Sun to move back by 10 degrees which amounts to precisely 40 minutes. Believe it! It really happened.
Finally, even before scientists proved the earth was round, the prophet Isaiah had described the Earth as a ball hanging from nothing.
2. The Bible is historically accurate.
The places, people and events found in this book have been proven to exist or occur as described in the text. For example, King Nebuchadnezzar actually reigned in Babylon as written in some Old Testament books and that the Israelites became exiles in that land after Babylon conquered Israel during the time of the prophet Daniel. Rameses ruled as pharaoh in Egypt during the time of Moses. Archeological diggings have shown that some of the bricks used to build some Egyptian structures contain no straw – a fact mentioned in the account of Moses when the Hebrew slaves were not given straw as a punishment for wanting to worship God in the desert. Likewise, Augustus Caesar really reigned during the time of Jesus Christ.
3. The Bible is prophetically correct.
All the prophecies in the Old Testament and many in the New Testament have already been fulfilled, as specifically foretold, without any exception. The prediction that the city of Jerusalem and, particularly, Solomon’s Temple would be destroyed occurred in AD 70 when the Romans conquered Judah. Prophet Daniel’s vision predicting that God’s Kingdom would be established during the Roman Empire became fulfilled in circa AD 33. All the prophecies regarding Christ’s life on Earth came true as foretold by the prophets (e.g., that He was to be born in Bethlehem, that He would be a Nazarite and that He would rise from the dead). There are many, many more.
From the above, we can be certain that God has intended the Bible to be the record of His dealings with humans. It contains His plan for the creation as well as the salvation of the world. His divine plan of sharing His eternal glory with human beings can be clearly understood and obtained by any person who desires to learn. This was God’s original purpose and remains to be His will for all time.
God speaks directly to us through His written Word, the Bible. We need only to follow certain simple principles to arrive at a simple and clear picture of God’s plan. But all this will not be possible without initially accepting the Final Authority of religious and spiritual truth which is the Bible and the Bible alone. This authority does not lie in any other book, any one person who claims as God’s representative on Earth or any religious group, whether great or small. God, through Christ His Son alone, can give us the enlightenment we need to know life, to enter God’s Kingdom and to attain eternal salvation.
To grasp the Bible’s message, one only needs an open mind, a willing heart and a humble spirit. Come then and let us reason together.
Bringing Into Light God’s Power to Create
Read: Genesis 1:1
God created the Universe by the power of His Word. This simply means that God’s will or authority caused the existence of all that we see and do not see in the cosmos: the stars and planets, the Earth, the seas, the continents, the atmosphere and the bodies and souls of living beings. That everything then was created by a wise and loving God, gives us reason to believe that nothing came into being by accident or chance. For God willed everything in the Universe to have purpose and meaning. Reading the Bible will help us find out the basic purpose and meaning of God’s Creation.
We need then to look at how things came about before we can understand why things are the way they are. Without this understanding, we cannot hope to savor life to the fullest.
With great poetic and dynamic wisdom from God, Moses begins his account of Creation with the absence and then the eventual appearance of light: from darkness to light, from nothingness into fullness. Thus, the Earth was formless (the Hebrew word literally means, in chaos) as the Spirit of God moved over its dark, watery face, as if planning or contemplating the goodness that was about to take place.
Often, we think God has it too easy; that He does not have to struggle at all because He is all-powerful. Yet, reading the first verse of the Bible gives us a view at God’s difficulty in the face of chaos. Since He is the God of order and not disorder, He could not have been responsible for that chaos. Could it be that someone else or something caused the emptiness over which the Spirit surveyed? God’s struggle then was to create something out of nothing, beauty out of the ugliness and goodness out of the confusion He saw. To think of this as an easy job comes close to demeaning God. The mere fact that even God rested after completing this task should convince us.
And God spoke these very first words, “Let there be light.” And there was light.
No other literary passage carries with it so much drama and significance than this simple, four-word statement any normal child can learn to speak and understand.
Just how and when this happened we will never fully understand until such time perhaps when God allows us to see into the things that He reserves only for His chosen ones. Yet, in our limited human experience we can relive the grandeur of that moment of creation every time we behold the Sun bursting out gloriously at every sunrise. For we begin each day as we shake off the darkness from our eyes and welcome the challenges of life with the vigor of new beings born into the light.
No one works in the darkness, not even darkroom film-developers who need light to create works of art the eyes can appreciate. No one can work within a vacuum, not even scientists who make one to study the processes of Nature within that environment. Least of all, God. He dispersed the chaos that once enveloped the Earth and made a beautiful and meaningful masterpiece out of it. This process of birth and of renewal becomes evident everywhere we look with the eyes of faith and understanding. And more so in the Bible.
In a way, our individual lives picture the power that brought everything into existence. Our bodies alone tell us how, as King David put it, “fearfully and wonderfully” we have been made. One who does not acknowledge this fact can find no benefit from reading the only book that reveals to us the numberless other ways that God has revealed Himself to us and for us. How poor and miserable indeed is the person who does not long to know these things!
Unfortunately, today in politics, business and industry, we talk of power and progress in the name of dark, selfish motives. Chaos reigns once more as if Creation never occurred. Darkness rules the minds of many like it had many times in the past. And to think that the real Light from God came down to finally make us understand the power He is capable of doing, which is to make us perfectly like His own image. He gave humans a perfect home in the beginning but we lost it. He now gives us a better deal and still we continue to rebel.
The story of chaos and darkness is as real as thunderstorms. But so is the story of light. The whole Bible tells the story of how a loving God conquered (and continues to conquer) chaos, darkness and even death for us all. We are just beginning that story.
Any person who dares to become a conqueror of this present world’s darkness needs only to read on to find out the secrets to creating the new person hidden within.
Believing That God Has The Ability To Create The Perfect Good
Read: Gen. 1:3-31
Reading the story of Creation is like reading any kindergarten book’s rendering of a fairy tale. Aside from the fact that it simply enumerates the events in chronological order and the things God created, it also ends each account with the statement, “And God saw that it was good.” So much like a refrain in a song. Perhaps, Moses wrote the passages to be sung for easy recall.
Maybe because of this simplicity or plainness, we tend to look at the story more as fable than fact, more as mystery than truth. It appears to picture a world so foreign to us that we find it hard to relate with this fantastic vision of an unspoiled, perfect era in human history. Even many of our young today find no great thrill in reading these incredible things. Is it because our world now no longer has that goodness it once had? Or is it because we no longer feel the childlike goodness that fairy tales once created in our minds and hearts when we were so much younger?
Perhaps. For many who start reading the Bible with a clouded view of God (if at all one believes in a God), the story is just another myth to be looked at with a handful of salt.
Yet, unknown to many who begin to read the Bible, there is that unexpressed longing to believe the goodness – and truthfulness – in this narration of the beginning of the Universe. Not all in this world can be bad or untrue. There must be a Truth out there somewhere that everyone is looking for. Or maybe someone has actually found and proven that an Ultimate Good or an Absolute Truth really exists. It only takes the heart of a child.
Just think: if a tiny flower can contain such beauty and can create such good thoughts in our minds just by being itself, could not the entire Universe carry so much more beauty and goodness than we can ever hope to understand and feel in our lifetime? But because we spend our time thinking of the evil and the corruption of this world, we easily forget how much good God has created. And how good God’s goodness really is.
That God even created us in His own image – that is to say, in the same nature of beauty and goodness that comes from His divine character – should tell us that we, of all Creation, must be thankful for the gifts of life and wisdom He has bestowed us with.
In short then, the purpose of this reading is simply to remind us of what God did thousands of years ago, even before He revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites. The good we see or are capable of feeling is but a shade of the perfect goodness God once placed in this Universe before sin covered it up with darkness, doubt and fear.
Reading the Bible is never an easy task. It runs against the very grain of our human nature which tends to reject anything that our minds and eyes cannot easily prove as real. Our modern, scientific orientation especially prevents us from accepting word-for-word Moses’ story. As someone has said, the Bible speaks in a language that is shallow enough for a child to swim in but deep enough for a theologian to drown in.
So then, with a child’s innocence and willingness, let us read the story of how everything came into being. Doing so will lead us back to that time when fairy tales would have had no appeal at all. A time when everything was good and perfect. When man and woman were meant to live happily ever after. That is, before sin came in.
Recognizing the Reality of Evil in this World
Read: Genesis 2:15; 3:1-7
Why is there evil in this world? Did God create evil? Or did He allow it to exist simply to test human beings?
These are questions often asked by people who get confused by the seeming injustice in this world. And oftentimes the answers found or given fall short of our deep need for satisfaction. Any opinion therefore we give here will only be a repetition of those attempts at providing ourselves with a valid reason (or excuse?) for all the sufferings we go through.
But these questions certainly await answers. We go to the Bible for enlightenment.
When God placed man and woman in the Garden of Eden, He gave them everything they needed. Food and comfort for the body; companionship, beauty and joy for the soul. All was for their enjoyment, except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Not the fruit or even the very sight of it was allowed. The warning of death was written all over it.
Did this mean our parents were not meant to “know good” as well? It seems that way. But on second look, we can say that what God was keeping them from was the personal experience (that is, the experiential knowledge) of both good and evil apart from God’s plan. God gave man and woman everything that was good for them and at the same time He prohibited something that was not good for them (although it appeared good to them).
The prohibition then was a test of their faithfulness in their Creator and Provider. But more than that, it was a test of their use of their gift as persons created in the image of God and having the freewill to decide to do what was right. Like a simple self-control test we often do to a child. Unfortunately, the result was also as predictable but infinitely more disastrous.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil then was simply a choice between good and evil. Adam and Eve knew and somehow experienced what was good, for Paradise contained all that goodness coming from God. And yet they also knew what was evil when God said, “On the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” In short, He said, “Disobey and you will die.” That was something not good in the minds of our parents but they had no direct knowledge or experience of that evil or what death meant or what it could do. Neither did they have a full appreciation of the good they had received until they lost all that goodness (the purity of their conscience and the good relation they had with God) by doing evil. Afterward, every time they regretted their sin, they were reminded of the good thing they had lost or given up due to their failure to control their desires and to exercise their good sense.
Consider a child. It does not have awareness of what is good or bad. It does not have any direct or clear apprehension of how flame can burn a finger. For how can such a beautiful thing be bad? A parent simply knows the result of disobedience and says, “Don’t touch that.” (The only difference here is that a child who disobeys usually gets nothing but a singed finger, a short lecture and lots of hugs from a parent!) A friend once commented that a wiser parent wouldn’t have to say that if the flame was beyond reach anyway. But sometimes, some parents, even out of love, would want their children to experience pain to impart lessons in life.
But if God had placed the forbidden Tree beyond human reach, would He have been a good Father? Or a wise God? Can we say then that our first parents’ fall has done us some good? For as the Devil had said, they would become like God, knowing good and evil. Or was that a lie?
It was not a lie for God Himself would say later on that “man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” However, the Devil lied when he said they would not die if they ate.
It was the first and grandest lie of all. As we mentioned, man and woman knew good and evil without or apart from the grievous act of disobeying God. Their pre-fall knowledge should have been sufficient for they were already created in the image of God. They were like God in the very beginning! Pure and sinless. For God is holy; in Him there is no sin. And sinning is not an act coming from a God-made being. Bearing the image of God and behaving in the image of the devil just do not go together.
Thus, Lie Number One led to Sin Number One. And eventually to Death Number One. Disobeying God led to sin and death. It was not the lie (the temptation) that caused their death for they could have chosen to obey their God and not the Devil. It was their own decision to sin. As is often the case, we choose to do wrong. Since then, Sin Number One has been repeated daily throughout the world a billion times over.
With everything good within their reach, Adam and Eve chose that which was evil and paid dearly for it. The Devil tempted them by offering them immortality (eat, there’s no way you can die) but in direct violation of God’s will (eat, you will die). The Tree of Life, which could have given them eternal life, was also there in the Garden but they did not eat of it in spite of the fact that God had given them the freedom to do so. Isn’t this failure to make use of a privilege much, much more unfortunate than the violation they actually made? For it would have given them – and all of us now – the knowledge and experience of eternal life. And nothing could be better than that!
From this, we can only say that being so inexperienced and vulnerable, and through the vicious intervention of Satan, our parents forfeited their opportunity to literally and figuratively taste of the eternal goodness of God. Naked and pure in the beginning, the first man and woman were special beings gifted not just with good things but the best things Heaven could offer. And God, in His wisdom and love, would have wanted them to remain that way until they themselves learned enough to discern the divine nature they possessed (including the rights and powers of that gift) and then to desire eternal life.
Nevertheless, we should not fail to appreciate the fact that in spite of what happened – that is, in our fallen state – that (eternal glory) is still what God wants for us. Even now, God strongly prohibits us from evil and yet He does not force His goodness upon us. The honor He has given to His Creation bearing His image remains and will remain until in His anger and in our continued rebellion He decides to finally reclaim it.
The question still remains: Why did God make the forbidden Tree desirable? Did not God play along with the temptation?
God does not tempt us to commit sin. His love compels us to do right. But Satan, the Great Deceiver, leads us to sin to separate us from God. He tempts us to do wrong. And he does this by making things appealing to human eyes. The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life are the three weapons he uses to entrap us. (Satan himself, once a glorious angel of God, fell from Heaven because of his pride in his own beauty. God gave him that beauty but his pride came from his own sinfulness.) The fruit looked good and desirable. It would make them like God. Of course, the fruit really looked good and delicious just as everything in the Garden was because God made it so. To the eyes and to the flesh, it appeared good. But to the spirit, it was (and should have been) detestable for it was not to be desired.
The one thing they forgot then was that God FORBADE THEM TO EAT. If God forbids us to eat something – even if it looks good, we have no right whatsoever to eat it. We cannot eat someone else’s food even if it looks so delicious. In like manner, we should not even look at someone else’s wife or husband with lustful eyes. God’s principles haven’t changed at all.
Evil existed in the Garden and in the world today as a reality separate from our own existence because God created us in His image or likeness from the beginning. Human science and philosophy have tried and somehow managed to reduce the reality of evil into a natural though abnormal function of the human soul or personality. (Another lie coming from you-know-who.) But evil is not a natural human quality. It is Satan’s seed planted in human hearts that bears all kinds of fruits of corruption. For if we are all helplessly bound to sin, then why would God still be angry at us sinners? Looking for a definition of evil or sin? Try this: Sin is when a person decides not to do good when all the reasons (society, family and one’s conscience) point to doing so and having failed to do it, that person would justify that failure.
We can have the desire and the ability to choose the way of the divine nature or character. No matter how much evil there is in this world, if a person believes and decides according to the laws of God, he will do right. As if evil never existed.
Of course, we say, “It’s not that easy! Look at what Eve and Adam did.” Which brings us to a more important question: How can humans truly become like God? Or more precisely, how do we effectively resist evil? And where do we get the power to overcome Satan?
The whole Bible, after the fall of Adam and Eve, contains the answers to these questions.
Reaping the Consequences of Sin/Receiving The Promise
Read: Genesis 3:8-19
The first effect of Adam and Eve’s sin was to open their eyes to their own nakedness so that they sewed fig leaves to cover themselves. Whereas they were naked and felt no shame before, now they were naked and in shame. The guilt that sin brought somehow made them conscious of their own human weakness and unwholesomeness before each other. No, they did not die immediately but they definitely died to the former innocent and pure life they had before they sinned.
More than that, they now hid themselves from God as He walked in the Garden. (We notice here how God had been so intimate with our parents in Eden.) Their shame was now even greater at the prospect of meeting God in their new condition. They had fig leaves to cover themselves but now they wanted to hide their entire being from God.
God’s discovery of man and woman’s sin led to three curses. First, God cursed the serpent for causing the woman to eat the forbidden fruit. He put hatred between the serpent and woman which would ultimately lead to the woman’s “seed” destroying the serpent’s “seed”. This early we are given a view into God’s eternal plan to save humankind. The seed of the woman is, of course, Christ, while the seed of the serpent is death. The sting of the serpent on Christ’s heel will not lead to permanent death. But the crushing of the serpent’s head will be a decisive blow against the Devil. Sin and death will be done away with. For centuries, this promise remained hidden in a mystery but has now been revealed to us by Christ and His apostles.
Second, God caused the woman to suffer extreme pain in childbearing and in giving birth. Moreover, she will desire her husband and he will rule over her. That, as a result of her sin. Does this mean that Eve at first had no great desire for Adam and that they were equal in all ways? That woman was a totally free individual as man was? Could have been that way. The fact that Eve acted on her own when she ate the apple seems to uphold this. Be that as it may, woman was now subject to man precisely because of her “totally-free” decision. For having taken a leading position that led to her error and also of man’s, she earned God’s judgment. Remember, it was Eve who tempted Adam to eat, not Satan. (One wonders if the present assertion of leadership by unenlightened women brings us back to a condition similar to the first fall. One thing seems clear though: The proverbial Battle of the Sexes came about because Satan had led the first woman to take a wrong independent stand.)
When God made them one flesh, He intended man and woman to be also of one mind in the Lord even though they were separate and distinct persons. Who knows what might have happened if Eve had first asked Adam’s opinion about eating the fruit? But because one broke that oneness, one of them was called upon to take a position of authority. And as things happened, man was given that position. A temporary thing it seems but one we must all uphold for the moment. (In Christ, however, there is essentially neither male nor female.)
Adam was no less guilty of sinning. In fact, because of his sin, the ground was cursed for his sake. From then on, man was to toil and sweat in order to eat. Whereas before he could simply take fruit from the trees and eat, he now had to struggle to till the fields so he can feed himself. Most of all, he would die and return to dust. And all this he reaped for “listening” to his wife. As we said, it was Eve who “gave (him) some fruit” and, therefore, caused Adam to sin. Yes, they did think and act as one. But thinking and acting as one was good as long as it was to do right.
We often feel we do not have many choices to make in life. But there were actually three possible choices for Adam and Eve. First, to do right and obey God by not eating of the forbidden fruit. Second, after Eve ate, Adam should not have eaten also of the fruit. (The whole world’s history may not have been as chaotic. Maybe all of us would have one foot in Paradise and the other in this world. Certainly not a bad deal considering what we have.) And the third choice is what really happened: Both of them ate. This only proves that humans tend to make the worst choice!
As such, we now live under the curses pronounced upon our parents in the Garden. From the moment we are born, we experience pain with our mother. Our first cry simply echoes our mother’s pain. As we grow, we see and feel and likewise experience later on the hardships our parents have to go through in order to protect and nurture us. And as we grow old, we come to fully recognize the fact that death will soon cover us in its dusty darkness.
Tragic, perhaps, but let us not forget that in all of these pronouncements, God made a promise to correct the error that our parents made. It seems ironic that the promise came with the curse on the serpent. But we must realize that because the serpent started it all, it was but reasonable that the source of the problem had to be eliminated in order to solve the problem. Temptation is the gateway to sin and Satan holds the key to it.
Yes, in a way, man and woman were like players caught in the divine struggle between God and Satan and between good and evil even before humans came upon the earthly stage. That God should bring humans into the picture at all tells us this was no accident or afterthought. If God had not loved humans so, He could have created them in the image of mindless animals, or worse, in the image of Satan. Then we would really wonder why God would go to all the trouble of creating the Universe and humans at all! That He did what He did and still provided a way of escape means His eternal plan included, whether there was sin or not, giving humans the glory that He shares with His angels in Heaven.
And rightly so, for God, as we mentioned, walked with man and woman in the Garden. Whether He was with His angels in Heaven or with humans in Paradise, God was sharing His glory with His beloved creatures. Alas, sin changed all that. If an angel in Heaven could fall, how could an earthly being avoid doing the same? But whether it is our destiny to fall or not, one thing is sure: We deserve the punishment. Angels were cast down from Heaven; humans were driven from Paradise. We, fallen angels and humans, all lost that glory because of sins. But we humans do not despair because we can reclaim it once again by virtue of God’s solemn promise.
For why should anyone desire to share the fate of fallen angels reserved for hell – the destiny that awaits all of God’s enemies?
From hereon, the Bible gradually opens our minds into the marvelous plan God conceived to help humans escape sin and death as well as into the intense pursuit by Satan to destroy that plan and in so doing lead many into destruction. (If we can only see Satan as he is, we would readily know why he is the destroyer of all good things.) In effect, God has declared a spiritual warfare against the forces of evil. As the battle lines are drawn we see people take their positions on either side. And often, the forces of darkness outnumber the forces of light. Where we will end up fighting (ignorance of or indifference to these matters is counted as such) will depend on our understanding or misunderstanding of the whole story revealed in Scriptures.
Read on and find out how the battle was joined.
Getting to Know the Father of Faith
Read: Genesis 12:1-7
Since the time Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden, sin and rebellion became common occurrences. Cain killed his brother Abel. The people of Babel challenged God by building a tower to heaven. And by the time Noah came into the picture, God had had enough of humanity’s wickedness that He destroyed all flesh, except for eight souls, to refresh the Earth.
That new beginning given to Noah and his family did not last long for people went back to their former ways. During all this time, God chose men and women of faith to speak His will. But no one was as faithful and as righteous as Abraham, the Father of Faith.
Out of his father’s idolatrous land, Abram (Exalted Father) was called by God into the land of Canaan. God gave Abram three promises: (1) he would become a father of a great nation; (2) all nations will be blessed through him (that is, through his “seed”) and (3) his descendants will receive the land of Canaan as their inheritance. All these seem ordinary until we realize that at 75 years old Abram had no son of his own. His wife Sarai was old and barren. But because Abram believed the promise in spite of the reality he saw, God blessed them with a son.
Abram pitched his tent in Canaan and became a great leader-warrior for God was with him. But the greatest test to this man’s life came when God called him to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice. Taking the lad Isaac to a mountain, he tied him up, placed him on the altar and then raised his knife intent on plunging it into his son’s heart.
The call from Heaven was clear. The sacrifice was required and Abram believed and obeyed. His only son, through whom he would pass on the promises, would have to die. And in his mind Abram believed that Isaac would live again. No one, until that time ever believed strongly that that was possible. But somehow, Abram knew God could do the impossible.
Isaac was as good as dead in the mind of Abram and more so in the mind of God. But the wonder of this story rests in the Eternal Truth that faith can work miracles. An angel of God prevented Abram from killing his son and provided a goat as a substitute offering.
From then on Abram became known as Abraham, the Father of Many Nations. With his son alive and the promise certain, the stage was set for God’s fulfilling His plan to bless not only Abraham and his descendants but all the nations of the Earth.
Abraham remained a wanderer in the land of Canaan. He never received any of the promises given to him during his lifetime. But his eyes of faith saw the fulfillment of those promises from afar. He counted the stars as if they were all his children to be born centuries later. He viewed the mountains like they were the altars upon which the fruits of his body would present sacrifices to the Lord in Heaven. He surveyed the fields of Canaan as if they were filled with houses and vineyards owned by his descendants through Isaac. All these, Abraham believed and he was found righteous before God.
Looking at all the nations of the Earth today, we can see for ourselves that God’s promises have come true. Even the Arab countries who descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s son by a servant-girl, call him their Father.
But most of all, many nations have been blessed through the “seed” of Abraham who is Jesus Christ. The real blessing is not material or temporary but spiritual and eternal. God was simply building the stage upon which His “seed”, as promised in the Garden, would execute His plan of saving humankind. From a great nation will come a great leader like nobody else in all of history. Someone who could claim He was before Abraham and therefore greater than Abraham. From the land of Canaan will arise a prophet who will preach salvation to all the world.
But before this could happen, God had to lead His chosen people (Abraham’s descendants) into a long and arduous journey of getting to know His ways. Ways so much different from what they were accustomed to. Since the time of Adam and Eve, no one exactly knew how God looked like or who He really is. This required a display of great power not even Abraham was privileged to see in his lifetime.
Next, we will look into the history of the Israelites when they lived as slaves in Egypt and when they finally conquered the promised land of Canaan.
Getting to Know the Real God
Read: Genesis 37-47; Exodus 1-20
The story of how Joseph, the Son of Jacob, brought the whole nation of Israel to Egypt is one of the most moving and amazing stories in the Bible. Only a reading of this historical account (which unfortunately some consider as myth) will tell us how God eventually nurtured Israel through more than four centuries and how He finally caused His chosen people to see and learn the love, power and mercy of an Almighty Father in Heaven.
Since Adam and Eve left Eden, no one had ever talked to God face to face. Until Moses came along. We will notice that God did not appear to him in idol-worshiping Egypt where he was born and then lived for forty years as a member of Pharaoh’s royal family. In fact, he had to suffer the humiliation of being rejected by his own people and the pain of living as a lonely exile for another forty years in Midian so that God could purify his heart and prepare him for their encounter and eventually for the execution of Heaven’s plan to save a people and build a great nation.
Hence, as God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Israel became a spectacle before the Egyptians and the rest of the world of how He could raise up a slave-people out of their hardships into their glorious heritage as a great conquering nation. (The rest of world history, from the Romans to the Germans, records the march of nations who would try to follow the greatness attained by Israel during King David’s reign but minus the divine calling and the permanent success.) With great miracles and mighty display of power He brought them out of Egypt and took them on a long journey through the desert for 40 years of continuous swinging from rebellion to submission, from despair to hope, from unbelief to belief.
And all this time, God provided them with food, water and clothing (they wore the very same clothes they had on when they left Egypt). The latter may seem hard to believe; but coming from the same person who wrote the Creation story, it may not seem that incredible. For if God can create something out of nothing, how hard could it be for Him to preserve clothes for 40 years? (And without water to wash them even! Of course, there was not much choice for a million or so wanderers in the desert.) Or if He can divide a sea to let the Israelites pass through, how much harder could it be for Him to provide for their simple daily needs?
We try to find “logical” (read: scientific) explanations for this impossible story. Not even fairy tales (as we mentioned earlier) can be as fantastic as this. Is it then only the children in Sunday school who can be expected to swallow such stuff? Or maybe only Spielberg and his lot who are expected to be gullible enough to spend millions of dollars to come up with a special-effects-filled animation feature that will exhibit to us in graphical reality the ”possibilities” God can do? We may have found a better way of retelling the story and making it appear more incredible and more entertaining, but have we really convinced ourselves of God’s might and splendor? Or do we humans tend to escape reality and look at divine miracles as mere fantasy?
In truth, the Bible forces us to question our standards for determining what is real or what makes reality. Is it what we simply see with our eyes or what we perceive beyond our senses? Is it something that exists outside of our own reality? That is, it exists in spite of us or in spite of our unbelief?
For Moses, tending his flock of sheep near Mt. Horeb led him to discover the reality of the true God through the voice that spoke in the burning bush. (Reality Test #1: A voice has reality; that is, God is real because we can recognize Him as He really is, not just a figment of our imagination.)
Educated as he was within the then advanced, superstitious-and-scientific Egyptian culture, Moses was like any other modern, educated person today faced with the eternal issue of the day. His questioning mind in fact led him to ask God what His name was (Reality Test #2: A voice has a name; that is, God can be defined or identified as a Being having real personality, the I AM THAT I AM or YAHUAH.). And Moses further asked God to show His glory, to see what He really looked like and to find evidence for his own curiosity (Reality Test #3: A voice has a face; that is, we can see, understand and believe the real nature of God.).
Finally, to prove to his fellow-Israelites he was sent by Yahuah Himself, Moses asked for a proof of their encounter (Reality Test #4: A voice has hands; that is, God has real power to create or to change our lives.). So God gave him the power to change a rod into a serpent and other deeds to satisfy this all too human desire (or hesitation?) to believe the unnatural.
That Pharaoh, the symbol of pride in human knowledge and power, never believed Moses tells us the other side of the story. Unbelief can be a very self-destructive choice.
All this would seem like apologizing for what many consider the Bible’s awkward or unpalatable side. But the question cannot be avoided. If we really think of it, it is at this point that we must decide once-and-for-all if God, Whom we do not see, is real. If His promises to Abraham would really come true or not. If He can cause an oppressed nation to become a “world power”. If angels really do exist or not. If the Bible is to be believed in its entirety or not. And it follows, if Christ, the promised “seed” is real or not.
That God caused everything He had promised to be fulfilled through the Israelite nation exactly as He had promised it, is reason enough to continue reading. For the story does not end in the life and times of the Israelites. We have seen only half of it in the Old Testament. And yet it continuous on to the present where the same God is still working and wanting to finish the task He had began in the Garden.
Today, God calls us out of the slavery of sin into His Kingdom of Light and Glory. The Tree of Life in Paradise, once forbidden from our first parents after they had sinned, awaits those who will not only believe it is real but will also do his or her part to find the way back into our eternal home.
Unbelief can be a very sad and hopeless choice.
Moses proved the reality of heavenly things through a face-to-face encounter with God. We can achieve the same through a faith-to-faithfulness encounter with God. Ask yourself this: If everything our faithful God promised to Abraham’s descendants came true, how hard is it for Him to keep His promises to each of us?
Later on in our journey through the Bible, we will be able to complete our Reality Test by three final tests, namely: Reality Test #5: A voice has a heart; that God is the God of real love and mercy; Reality Test #6: A voice has a Spirit, that is, He is the God Who gives true life; and, finally, Reality Test #7: A voice has a body; that is, God made a Kingdom of His followers to serve as the living symbol of His reality in the present world and for all eternity.
From all these we will be able to prove beyond doubt that the small, still voice we hear speaking out of the shining Bible comes from the real God in Heaven. Check it out for yourself as you turn the pages.
Understanding the Law of Moses
Read: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Moses received the Ten Commandments etched by the finger of God on two tablets of stone. For the first time in history, a set of laws was handed down to humans to serve as the moral code for a new nation and one which is founded on the eternal principles of Heaven. Those laws, among other statutes and provisions given to Moses, comprised the strict legal and ceremonial requirements that the Israelites were called upon to obey all the days of their lives. God now became their leader and provider and they became a special people of God separated from all the rest of the nations. And the Law was needed to instill discipline and order among this unique people.
Israel also received a land as its own territory. And this, God did by giving to the Israelites the towns and cities in Canaan and its neighboring countries. Incredibly, they did not have to labor to plant lush fields or fruitful vineyards; for when they conquered the land, they inherited all its riches. And in some cases, they had houses ready to occupy, they had silver and gold taken from their enemies, they had flocks of sheep and cattle and many, many more blessings. A land flowing with milk and honey was exactly what the Promised Land was. Imagine the feelings of those Hebrews whose parents had earned the reputation of being slaves for centuries and then as a wandering people with no place of their own. Those who finally entered the land beyond the Jordan River had kept faith in a loving and patient God and they found rest and satisfaction in their newfound land.
God, many might still wonder, had an ax to grind against the idolatrous dwellers of Canaan and He used His chosen people to exact judgment. In purifying the land out of those idolatrous tribes, He fulfilled the promise He gave to Abraham and his descendants.
The Law was unlike any other sets of laws ever promulgated before or after it came. It established the standards needed for building meaningful and proper relationships. How they were to behave before God and toward one another. Many of those people had worshiped other gods but now they were not to have any other gods before the one true God. This fact made them a special people; for all around them, nations had idols and gods made out of wood, stone or gold. Those godless nations were an abomination to God and the main reason He established Israel was to set an example for all those nations.
We will read many accounts where this rare characteristic of the Israelites would be admired and emulated by other nations. We have the case of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who was deeply impressed by prophet Daniel’s faithfulness to his God. And Jonah who was sent to preach to the Gentile (non-Jewish) city of Nineveh in Assyria whose citizens repented and were saved from destruction. And many others.
The work of blessing the whole world through Abraham and his descendants was slowly taking its course. Yet, all throughout this process, the Israelites remained like a rebellious child to a loving father. Often, their defeat to other nations came about because of their sins, sins arising from their violations of God’s specific laws. King Saul’s experiments in witchcraft and talking to the dead led to his disfavor in the eyes of God. King David’s adulterous deed led to the death of his child by Bathsheba. King Solomon’s many foreign wives led him to worship other gods and eventually to the division of his kingdom.
Apart from the Law, God also revealed His will through judges and prophets who declared specific messages during certain times in the history of the nation. Samson became a mighty judge exacting vengeance upon the Philistines who had remained unconquered for the purpose of teaching the Israelites lessons in warfare. With one sacrificial act, Samson destroyed all their leaders. Samuel was a holy priest given the task of purifying the temple from the blasphemous sons of priest Eli.
God never left the Israelites to their own devices for a long time. His moments of long silence may have appeared hard to grasp, as when the Israelites became slaves in Egypt or when they became exiles in Babylon; but He always sent messengers to turn their hearts and minds back to Him. If not for a vow He had made not to destroy the world again by flood, He would have destroyed even His own people so He can again renew the world. Yet, He reserves the world for final destruction by fire for He knows how rebellious and wicked people can become.
God knows it is not in the human heart to obey His laws, particularly laws which are burdensome, for such were the laws of Moses. He realizes that for humans to abide by His ways, they would have to have a better law not written on tablets of stones but written in the heart itself. Thus, He promised through Jeremiah a time when that would actually happen.
The law then, aside from the fact that it was given only to the Israelite nation, was also temporary. The keeping of the ceremonial practices such as the three main Jewish feasts served only as a platform for understanding the new way that God was going to set up not just for the Jews but also for the rest of the world. The Seed promised in the Garden of Eden was to arise from the Israelite nation and He would fulfill the law in its entirety for no human being can ever do that. Once He did that, the Law would no longer be in effect for it will be replaced by a better and more glorious law written in human hearts and founded on better promises.
We might envy everything that the Jews inherited as a chosen people, but imagine how much greater the blessing is to those whom God calls as His children, not according to birthright as Jews but according to the “seed”-promise given to Abraham.
For so many centuries, the Israelites kept the Law of Moses until the time when the Seed would come to complete the whole plan of Heaven to save all humanity. In spite of the fact that the Law was not perfect, it served to teach the Israelites and other nations to know God and His ways. Many today still teach people to keep the law or part of it, because they can not accept the simple fact that it was given only to the Jews and that it was temporary.
On the other hand, the new “law of liberty” to be established by Christ is sufficient to fulfill the intent of the Law of Moses. Whereas Jews today still adhere to the Law of Moses, believers not descended from Israel obey the word of the Messiah. For God has completed His promise to Abraham to bless all the nations of the world. And He does this now not by requiring us to keep the Law of Moses but by allowing us to accept freely the grace that comes through Jesus Christ, the Seed of Abraham.
Finally, we must realize that laws are made not for the righteous but for sinners and for the disobedient. Under the law of perfect love, God sets us totally free from legal demands and restrictions. Those who still seek to keep the Law (or modern extensions of it) remain as slaves to such rigid rules. They think they can merit salvation through works or by their own efforts and not as a gift from God. They fail to appreciate lessons learned from the Law, and there are many, as examples of how things shall be in the Kingdom of God that was about to come.
Preparing the Way for the Seed and the Kingdom
Read: Matthew 3; John 1
Before the Seed came on the scene, the Law of Moses had already become the cement that bonded the religious, social, cultural and political facets in the life of the Israelite nation into one seamless community for generations. It provided a foundation upon which all the individual and the collective needs could be supported and, in the process, build a strong, popular and prosperous kingdom. It set the Israelites apart from the rest of the world as a unique nation under the direct rule of Heaven. Without the Law, they were nothing but another tribe tossed around by the violent forces of Nature and the destructive plunder of neighboring kingdoms. The Law gave them a sense of being, a foundation for unity and a banner of hope in the storms of time. In short, the Law of Moses made Israel a great nation as God had promised to Abraham.
Of course, there were departures from the plan of God; but, in general, the legal code that they claimed exclusively as their own became as irreplaceable and as essential as the air that they breathed and the food they ate. Anyone who disobeyed the Law was punished accordingly. That system of punishment became a norm within Jewish society and the leaders took it upon themselves to be the guardians of morality. They applied justice according to the letter (or demand) of the specific law violated. Hence, a tooth was required to repay a tooth taken, an eye for an eye, etc. Or, for less serious offenses, the sinner could offer a sacrifice at the temple for his or her atonement. Yahuah loved and blessed His nation through His Law.
At the time the Seed was born, Judaism (that is, the Jewish religion based in Jerusalem where the temple stood) was hopelessly divided into at least two major sects resulting from differences in interpreting religious matters. The Levite priests and respected teachers of the Law were at the center of the ongoing debate. The Pharisees, composed mainly of lay people, believed in the resurrection of the physical body, whereas the Saducees, an aristocratic party which controlled the priesthood, did not. Somehow this division created not a small amount of confusion among the people. More often than not, however, discussions revolved around such petty issues of the Law (how to wash hands before offering sacrifices, and the like) that the more essential points (e.g., holiness, compassion) were neglected.
Another social class consisted of the Scribes who were professional scholars given the task of interpreting and applying the holy Scriptures to all aspects of life. They were no less notorious for their attitude of self-importance due to their social status.
Doubtless, these leaders helped to develop and promote the religious life of the Jewish people, in general. But behind the pious faces, many of those leaders led hypocritical lives and often used their positions for selfish ends. The temple that had been built by King Solomon to house the Ark of the Covenant and the implements for worship had become the center of commerce. With thousands of Jews coming to offer sacrifices, there existed a big trade for birds and animals at the temple courtyard. Moneychangers served the many Jews visiting from foreign lands. (Under such circumstances, the phrase “stock exchange” attains a more graphic significance. The hype and the motives though remain almost the same.) The noise of animals lowing, braying and bleating and of people haggling and shouting, together with the foul smell of animal dung, took away the former solemnity of God’s house of prayer. The god Mammon was taking over God in His temple.
The irregularities thus created by the official religion took its toll in the spiritual condition of the masses. Sin had increased in spite of the Law. Or because of the Law. For the Law was precisely given for the lawbreaker or the sinner. Now the Law that they were trying to uphold pointed an accusing finger at them. The ruler himself, King Herod, was guilty of adultery. And, eventually, murder. Soldiers took bribes. Taxpayers collected more than the necessary fees. Ordinary folks were no less guilty of various offenses. Somehow, the Ten Commandments had become nothing but a national decoration, a useless set of rules one could simply ignore. For with the ceremonial laws for the atonement of sin, people – especially the rich – could easily remove the burden of guilt (or so they thought) by offering a sacrifice or performing other ceremonial requirements.
With both leaders and followers walking blindly together, confusion and darkness pervaded Jewish society like they did before the Creation of the Universe or before the Great Flood. Only a great light from Heaven could dispel all that chaos. Or perhaps a strong downpour to wash away all the filth.
Yet, nothing came close to the confusion and trouble created by the controversies surrounding the prophecies concerning the Messiah or the “seed” of Abraham. For centuries, countless “christs” or would-be messiahs and saviors came on the scene and caused no small problem for the Romans and the Jewish leaders. Many of those self-proclaimed rebels were actually nothing but bandits or criminals whose followers were mainly fugitives from the law as well. For those law-breakers, the punishment meant death by crucifixion, a punishment which the Romans implemented upon their colony in line with their policy to institute Pax Romana (Roman Peace).
Of course, there were a few visionaries who appeared to uphold the message of the Messiah through their simple, pious lifestyle. One sect that separated itself from the general Jewish community by living in caves in the desert were the Essenes. It is claimed by some that John the Baptizer dwelt with these people in the desert.
The Law of Moses then came to operate under a colonial environment. Protected by the Roman “peace” through its military might, the Mosaic Law maintained its basic historical character and developed into an even more rigid structure under the care of the proverbial strict and arrogant Jewish character. In short, the Law that was meant to lead people away from sin and to God, became not only an indirect tool of the colonizing power to create a false peace and to maintain its rule but also an instrument of the ruling class to preserve its selfish social and economic interests. (Such a pattern of colonial government, explicitly or implicitly, would continue to exist to the present.)
It came as no surprise then that the arrival of the Christ would be met with the same official complacency and disdain. No one could ever challenge the stability of the status quo without receiving the full weight of the punishment. To those leaders, the Law respected no one, not even He who claimed to be the Savior of Israel. Just as modern leaders proudly claim, they must have also claimed then, “What are we in power for?”
But the winds of change were blowing and the lowly citizens felt them strongly. In the hearts of those poor and despairing people, there was a growing assurance that the Messiah (Savior), as the Seed was known, was coming. Yes, every generation of Jews had had that hope kept alive, but the time was ripe and the harvest season was near. John the Baptizer, the voice in the wilderness and the last of the prophets under the Law, spoke of the coming of the Seed and the establishment of the Kingdom prophesied earlier by Daniel. And John had an audience who came to him all the way to the desert. No one had ever come close to expressing the hopes they had held so long as a nation with regard to the promises given to Abraham. No one ever spoke more fervently of the coming of the new Kingdom.
John did not only have a message to proclaim and an audience to hear him out, he had, most of all, the enviable task of revealing to the people the Deliverer of Israel in person. Like an emcee, he merely prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah Himself as the main actor and the real sponsor of the biggest show on Earth ever. Bigger than that of Moses. Or that of King Solomon.
John’s message was simple: repentance from sins. Yes, there was hope for everyone, even for the adulterous king or the proud Roman centurion. All they needed to do was to decide to turn a new leaf or have a change of heart. Whereas the Law bore down heavily on the sinner, his message carried a merciful tone. Nevertheless, John did not mince his words but raged at those sinners who he thought had little hope of remorse. Yet, not many of the ruling members of society believed him for he had no place in their respectable circles. He was practically a social outcast and a threat to the “peace” of the status quo. As such, King Herod had him murdered to silence the voice raging against the “pleasures” of sin.
But many of the poor listened to John. Soldiers and tax collectors followed him. These people had felt the burden of their own sins and the hardship imposed upon them by their religion and its priests and teachers. They must have thought, rightly so, that if they stopped sinning, then there was no need to buy that many animals to offer as sin offerings at the temple. (They only had to offer the regular thanksgiving sacrifices, for God saw to it that no one kept away from the temple where His glory still remained.) It was a simple spiritual and economic decision to make. And a wise one, too. Most of all, they felt the joy and hope of seeing a new order of things under the coming Kingdom of the Messiah.
Every new ruler or kingdom promises to be a better one. And here was the age-old prophecy of a new reign under one of King David’s descendants. No, the “lamp” of David Himself was coming to shine upon the holy city, Jerusalem! The lost glory of Israel was soon returning. Even the oppressive Romans would be driven away from the land, the people must have thought.
Thus, in the midst of those widespread inconsistencies and the joyous expectations, the people knew that the Seed of Abraham would finally come. All the provisions in the Law and the words of the prophets came forth to life with vibrant hope in the hearts and minds of a people thrice enslaved – by the Romans, by the Jewish leaders and by sin. With John prophesying right before their eyes, they all eagerly awaited the presentation of the Messiah Himself. This explains the success of John as he preached in the desert. How successful? It is said that all of Israel came to John to be baptized in the Jordan River. And that included the Messiah Himself. All, that is, except the self-righteous Jewish leaders.
And the hope that the Israelite nation had kept for centuries became a reality. The promise that the Jews had held since the time of their Father Abraham was finally fulfilled.
The Seed had indeed come. And the Kingdom was not far behind.
Replacing the Law of Moses with the Law of Love in Christ
Read: Matt5-7; II Corinthians 3:7-18; Galatians 3:10-14; Hebrews 1-10
When John baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, God served witness to John (and now serves witness to us) by saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” And the Holy Spirit came down upon Christ in the form of a dove.
In the eyes and ears of John, these things were real and undeniable proofs of the Messiah’s coming in the flesh. To the people who saw only an ordinary man and heard nothing but thunder, belief came from trusting the word of a prophet.
Many did believe and see the Messiah come. However, many also did not.
Today, we have no other solid proof than the words of Apostle John who wrote about the event. In like manner then, we must also trust the testimony of a messenger from God. Whoever rejects that witness rejects God. For until that time, God spoke only to His chosen messengers and gave His Holy Spirit only to a few people.
But why so? Was John the Baptizer or the prophets better and holier than the rest of the people? Was God playing favorites?
Apparently not. For Christ would say of John, “No one is greater than John yet the least in the kingdom is greater than he.” What did He mean by this paradox?
When man and woman were driven from the Garden, God’s anger had caused Him to reject them for their sin. Before He condemned humans later on to die in the Great Flood, He would say, “My Spirit will not remain in man forever for he is mortal.” The goodness and the divine nature of the immortal God will not dwell in a physical body bound to decay. Darkness and light could never coexist. We learned this from Creation and in the Garden.
The glory God once shared with humans was all but lost and forgotten except in the minds of the prophets who saw it from a distance and in a very blurred vision. Prophets then were simply vessels bearing the light of Truth and reminding people of what was then in the beginning and what was also possible in their own lives. If they only listened.
Even when God decided to give humans a glimpse of His glory to Moses, that vision was fleeting. It is written that Moses’ face glowed after each encounter with God on the holy mountain. And he had to cover his face not just because people could not stand the light but more so because the light was fading.
And so was the Law given to the Jews. It came with fading glory and power. Yes, the Law truly came from Heaven, and signs and miracles accompanied and proved its divine origin. Not only were they seen by Moses but by all the Israelites when they fled from Egypt. Nevertheless, for all those wonders, the Law was insufficient to make humans holy and perfect.
We would think that being given that privilege to see the glory and power of God would remove all sinfulness from a people. We would expect that such a great salvation wrought by God would lead people to abhor sin totally. We would hope that that special blessing to a people would lead them to abide by God’s rule alone. We would think that His plan through Moses would bring to a close humanity’s exile from Paradise. But now we know that the Law was ineffective and temporary. We saw how sin increased in spite of the Law. The Law kept people under frustration for sin could not be removed by sacrifices or by the blood of animals. For the Law simply reminded them of their sins and their sinfulness. Thus, anyone who relied on keeping the Law was practically under a curse.
In truth, the Law had no power to make people think and behave like God. It could not reverse the damage done in Eden. For the Law only proved they were slaves to sin and death. The Serpent had caused all of them to rebel against God.
In short, true divine character did not come from keeping the Law.
The Messiah, on the other hand, came to fulfill the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets. This simply meant He would put into effect the real plan of God to save humankind as promised through Abraham. Whereas the Jews offered animals to be sacrificed at the altar, Christ came to offer Himself as a pure, final sacrifice and remove God’s anger once and for all. He paid the price humans could not pay. His life for ours sins which have brought us death. This was clearly spoken by God in the Garden: That death meant both physical and spiritual death. To eventually go back to dust and to be separated from God’s glory. To eventually die and not be able to walk with God in the coolness of the Garden. The fall of Adam and Eve from the spirit-glory of God was so great we can not begin to appreciate how much we ourselves miss until we come face to face with the torment of sin and the reality of death.
God’s eternal anger is simply beyond human efforts to appease or even repay. Obeying the Law or offering one’s life could not earn us His forgiveness. On the contrary, the Jews’ arrogance in their upholding of the Law only magnified their sinfulness in the eyes of an angry God. The anger shown by the Seed against those proud people would eventually lead to the very destruction of the temple and the setting aside of its use. Thus, He would destroy the works of human hands and bring about the perfect workmanship of Heaven – the Eternal Kingdom of God.
So when Jesus Christ first appeared, He preached an entirely new way of serving and worshiping God. He blessed the “poor in spirit”, the “meek”, the “peacemakers” and those “who mourned” and those “who were persecuted for righteousness sake”. To those people belonged the blessings of the New Kingdom and the New Earth. Great though the anger of God and greater the punishment for so much sin, the Seed came preaching the message of salvation and life. (Reality Test # 5: A voice has a heart; that God is the God of real love and mercy as shown through Christ’s teachings.)
Whereas the Law outlawed murder, Christ taught love even for enemies. Whereas adultery came then with the illicit sexual act, Christ taught that evil desires came from the heart. Whereas the Law provided a justice based on the “tooth-for-a-tooth” principle, Christ taught them to repay evil with good and to follow the Golden Rule of Love.
As a result of these teachings, whoever kills another will not be judged by the law that prohibits murder but by the Word of God which requires us to love others. Whoever commits fornication is judged not because he has violated a law but because he has desecrated his or her own body which has been purchased with Christ’s blood and is a temple of God’s Spirit. Whoever takes revenge will not stand justified in the eyes of God for He alone has the right to demand payment from an offender for whom Christ also died.
Yes, the Law of Moses distinguished the evil deed from the good deed by clear-cut provisions and people behaved according to that death-dealing, legal definition. But the law of love and liberty in Christ transforms us into new creatures who live daily according to the dictates of the life-giving Holy Spirit Whom Christ promised to give to every believer. (Reality Test #6: A voice has a Spirit; that is, He is the God Who gives true life.)
The Messiah, by the power of the Spirit, spoke with authority and many followed Him. He even healed the sick and the lame on the Sabbath, the day of rest when no Jew was allowed to do even the slightest work. Because of this, the Jewish leaders became envious. They must have thought, “Who is this man who dares teach and heal without our approval? Who gave him the right to violate the Law entrusted to us?” To find out the answers and also to destroy His reputation, they sent spies to follow Jesus.
All throughout Christ’s ministry, the Jewish leaders could not appreciate the fact that the God Who gave them the Law was the same God speaking through Christ but this time speaking through love, of love and with love. God’s love was clearly seen in the good deeds Jesus did. He healed, He comforted, He fed, He forgave and He even raised the dead.
But alas, the Jewish leaders would not believe even their own spies. Let alone their own eyes. For even if they themselves had seen the signs and wonders Christ performed, they would not have believed for they were blind. More blind than the blind. More deaf than the deaf. They were whitewashed tombs full of decaying flesh, clean outside but full of worms inside. They were vipers full of venom, looking smart but in reality murderous fools. Against those people, Christ contended and raged while He cared for the sick, poor and lowly. His great success made His enemies tremble. They then planned His death.
The workers of darkness, as prophesied in the Garden, was about to deal their most lethal blow against the promised Seed. But little did they know that with His death, Christ would also put to an end their sinful deeds. For Christ would nail to the cross (that is, set aside) all the laws and regulations under the Law of Moses. Not that He will abolish the Law but that He will fulfill it. For the Law in reality pointed to His coming and His death. By dying, He then fulfilled what the Law required. The Law merely served as the shadow of things to come and the reality that He would establish for eternity. By His death He appeased the anger of God and put into effect a new law with better promises and with greater glory. A law not written on tablets of stone but living in human hearts.
Just when we think our systems work and that we are doing what we think we should be doing, reality sets in and changes the rules of the game. Dictators learn this too late. Criminals are no less blinded by their own thinking. Many leaders throughout history have put stains on the pages of history instead of shedding some light upon them. Those Jewish leaders and their legions of imitators today were and are the true enemies of Christ. For them the Law was given to magnify their disgrace. And yet the Law of Christ is no less strict in its condemnation of these people. For those who violated the Law of Moses would be judged by that Law whereas those who reject the Seed shall likewise reap His judgment. God’s justice does not sleep.
To believe what Jesus taught and did before He finally fulfilled His mission, required no simple faith among the oppressed Jews. That many of the poor and humble did, merited them with unusual wisdom and righteousness. (In fact, unlike John who died never to see the Kingdom established on Earth, those Jews lived to see it and become part of it, to fulfill Christ’s prophecy regarding John mentioned at the beginning of this lesson.) That most of the leaders did not believe and even plotted to kill Christ, merited them with folly and unrighteousness worthy of God’s eternal judgment. But to see all these in hindsight and not make the right decision in regard to one’s own destiny would merit greater folly and wickedness. To follow the steps of the proud Jewish leaders and not see the evil end of their ways is beyond human understanding. For to follow the Law strictly may be all too human; but not to follow the Law of Life and Love clearly shows that the remaining forces of darkness and evil strive to maintain their last and final hold upon the human spirit.
Today the Law still entraps many people in its legalistic and rigid ways. Many remain slaves to the keeping of ordinances: the “do this” and the “don’t do that”. Many do not know yet the real meaning of freedom. Many think they have the Truth and yet remain slaves to religious or faith-systems no different from Judaism. Their teachings and their leaders are nothing but remnants of the old, dying ways set aside a long time ago and replaced by the New, Living Way in Christ.
How can we be free indeed? How do we attain the glory of God?
The answers to these questions are contained in the writings of the apostles.
Understanding True Discipleship
Read: II Samuel 7:11-16; Romans 1:16; Mark 15-16; Acts 1-2; I John 2:18-27
Jesus Christ did die on the cross but rose on the third day as foretold in the Old Testament. After that, He went up to Heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father to claim the everlasting throne God promised to King David. He now reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The glory that He once shared with the Father in creating the Universe He now shares with Him. And He continues to work in perfecting or completing the Kingdom He had established on Earth. That Kingdom of royal priests and a chosen people He rules over as High Priest and Mighty Ruler. Because Satan does not rest, the work began by the Lord Jesus and the first Christians must also continue. And then will come the Judgment.
Remember that Christ purchased this Kingdom with His own blood. Getting to know this Earth-bound, Heaven-ruled Nation requires studying the writings of the apostles whom Christ entrusted with the work of planting the Seed of that Kingdom until the final harvest. And those who desire to enter it must then be willing to count and pay the cost of becoming His disciples.
Christ, the promised Savior, taught the principles of God’s rule in the hearts of His disciples. He had chosen twelve apostles (who spent day and night with Him during His ministry on Earth) as His primary messengers. After Judas Iscariot died, Matthias took his place within the close circle of disciples who witnessed Christ’s sufferings and resurrection. Saul of Tarsus, a former persecutor of the Christians, became an apostle himself when Christ appeared to him and commissioned him to preach the Gospel to the Gentile world. No other apostle came after Paul for the foundation laid down for Christ’s Kingdom has already been established. The New Testament is the only firm foundation we need.
From those holy men, together with the other disciples who followed Christ, came the beginnings of what would become the most dynamic and most widespread and enduring Kingdom in history. From one man’s crusade to save the world and through a dozen chosen leaders came millions and millions of souls touched by the life-transforming Good News of the Kingdom promised ages ago to Abraham.
What makes this Good News so appealing and powerful?
Paul would claim that the Gospel of Christ is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. He considered himself the “chief of sinners” for he had hounded Christians to jail them and even approved of their death. But as a convert, he did not hesitate to lay down his life for the sake of this Gospel. Many of the first Christians eventually became martyrs for Christ. Their lives became like those of lambs offered on the Jewish altars, which rose up in smoke and gave a sweet-smelling aroma to Heaven. A horrid vision, perhaps, for many of us who may have never even seen the silence and humility of a lamb as it goes through the process. How much more frightful then for a person to be so killed in the eyes of God, not for any crime but in answer to His call to love one’s enemies and to repay evil with good.
True, the stage of infancy of the Kingdom was a turbulent and distressing one for Christians because of many factors. First, there were the Jewish sects we mentioned earlier that the disciples had to contend with. To those Jewish leaders, the first Christians were rebels and deserved to be punished. And Moses’ Law, as well as the civil ordinances, were brought to bear upon those innocent people. Secondly, there were the Roman authorities who, although they maintained a neutral stance, sought to pacify the puppet Jewish government by putting down any form of rebellion against the State. Thus, martyrdom became a common fate of many of those believers during the first two centuries. Such was the fate of John the Baptizer, Christ Himself, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and many of the apostles later on.
Finally, there were the ordinary Jews who had lived for so long under the pair of wings of the Jewish culture and religion founded by Moses. For them, following a new “sect”, as the body of Christians was then called, was not a better option than remaining a temple-worshiping Jew. Those who believed were mainly oppressed or poor citizens who saw in Christ’s message and miraculous deeds the fulfillment of the prophecies pertaining to the New Kingdom. Many also felt the force of divine love working through Christ’s messengers who were themselves empowered by the Holy Spirit. One thing was sure, without those signs and wonders, the Gospel would not have gained any ground within such a hostile nation and environment as Israel.
The same was true and, perhaps, even more difficult for those of the disciples who traveled through the ancient world. People steeped in ancient Greek or Roman pagan beliefs were no less hostile to those foreign preachers. Many though, eagerly received the message because of the persistence of the Kingdom-workers like Paul. As a result, he would claim that he had preached the Gospel in all of the civilized world from Asia to Europe. His own life became a testimony of a man’s torturous journey of planting the Seed of the Kingdom on dry, rocky soil. That he made so much harvest serves testimony to the might of God and His message. God gave success to His Word.
The New Testament (NT) then journals not only the hardships or struggles the Christians in the first century went through but also mirrors the very life any ordinary faithful Christian must go through in order to “enter the Kingdom” and to gain eternal life. Even the last book in the NT would magnify the sufferings that God’s people would suffer in what is believed to be the last and final battle between God and His enemies. If so much blood fills up the pages of the Old Testament, could it be that more blood will flow in the last days? Why is this so? Is God so obsessed with sacrifice?
In our more permissive times when human thoughts can be either wild or conservative or anywhere in between, personal sacrifice has become as rare as the bubonic plague. During the time of Constantine (AD 4th century), persecution finally ended and Christianity (at least, one form of it) became recognized as an official state religion and given privileges in civic and social circles like never before. Sunday came to be the new rest-day for believers and led to the prohibition of business and gladiatorial bouts on that day. Unfortunately, this occasion also led to the entry of pagan or non-Christian beliefs and practices into what is now considered the Catholic religion. Yet, many other Christian groups would not escape being tainted by this departure from the Pure Gospel. The gradual changes have eroded the uniqueness that the Kingdom once had in its early years.
What we now have is a Christianity modeled after a worldly interpretation of discipleship. It has generally lost its original flavor and no wonder that it has failed to provide a stimulus for transforming people into self-sacrificing believers.
Without the muscle-building benefit of struggle, Christians slowly became complacent and self-assured. This state of mediocrity pictures the extent of indifference into which true Christianity has gradually fallen into. Christians have unconsciously drifted into the mainstream and caught within the materialistic pursuits of this world. They are no longer a minority struggling to maintain its spiritual heritage but a majority satisfied in its reserved place in normal society. Worldly concerns have led so many of the believers into a lazy spell that even the task of teaching the Gospel has become nothing but a “Sunday thing” or a job that a paid professional must do. To some, worship has become nothing more than a weekly social affair expected of law-abiding members. Politicians (with the aid of self-seeking religious leaders) gain public acceptance by being seen in one of those televised prayer-meetings or rallies.
For lack of a vision, a nation dies.
But the vision we need is right there in the Bible. The writings of the apostles provide that vision that we need to allow us to live out our real participation in Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. The problem is that so many so-called teachers would deceive us and make us slaves again to a faith-system. By this, we mean a rigid structure within which one must fall into place like a nut or a cog in a great wheel that is part of a giant machine. And who knows how many such machines exist today? Hence, where freedom was once promised, there exists nothing but another form of bondage.
Check this out for proof: Ask the first ten Christians you can find as to what “church” or “fellowship” they belong to and you will get not one but three or more different answers. Funny? Maybe amusing? But to some, this is but natural or expected. But if you come to think of it, this would not have been possible during the time of the apostles. In fact, it would have been unthinkable! If you were a Christian then, you were simply a Christian – nothing more, nothing less. You belonged to Christ’s Kingdom and not to any part or denomination of it. But this view has no place in this modern, liberal world.
Nowadays, it seems so much harder to be different. To become an essential Christian today, one will have to contend with so many other Christians all claiming to be followers of Christ yet keeping to their own peculiar ways. (And how fiercely will they defend those ways!) There is no longer any single and simple distinguishing feature that will cause them to come together in pure oneness and true fellowship. What was once a great moral force that turned the world upsidedown has become a collection of small and big clubs each spending time dealing with its pet “church” projects. The breakdown of the national character pictures the breakdown in the general spiritual condition of believers. This was so in the Old Testament; this is more so now.
It is not uncommon today to hear preachers contend against other “believers” for a varying point of view on a certain doctrine. They do not see eye-to-eye and, in the meantime, the cause of the Gospel suffers. True, we need a continuing intelligent public-debate to thresh out the errors; but, so far, there is no visible sign of people coming together. The exercise mirrors basketball teams vying for the trophy.
When will we realize that the immediate reason for the existence of so many denominations is the splitting of one group into two or more groups because of personal disagreements on teachings and procedures? When will we finally see how hopeless the situation has become? (Yes, there are cases of people uniting but they are rare.)
History tells us that the Catholic Church broke up into two (Greek and Roman) in the second millennium. For almost a thousand years (from AD 4th to 11th century) the Greek Church ruled the civilized world and now the Roman Church holds the baton. The Protestant Church, a breakaway group from Roman Catholicism in 1521, eventually broke into so many groups (Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.) in the past four centuries. And today, even smaller groups fall apart almost as often as marriages break up. There seems no end to this tragic story.
Apostle Paul predicted the rise of divisions as early as the first century. The root of all such divisions or disagreements of course is pride. When we see many if not all of these groups professing exclusive claim over truth and righteousness, it can only be pride at work. Once they begin to lead you to Christ – through their faith-system and no other – then beware! Such spirit is not of Christ. For Christ never intended for His Kingdom to be a visible Earthly kingdom housed in fancy, titled or tall buildings (remnants of the “high places” in ancient Israel) and governed by puny human beings wearing self-respecting titles. His people are not compromising people who agree to disagree but never really reconcile with one another for the sake of Christ. They are not indifferent people who let others do their thing while they do their own thing but never really work toward building up the one Body of Christ according to His Truth.
Yes, Paul also said that divisions are unavoidable and even necessary to weed out those who are not of God. It was true then when the real Kingdom already existed but what about now? Who can tell us where to go or what to believe in? And how can a divided Kingdom of Christ replant the pure seed of the Gospel and harvest more than the apostles ever did? For with so many people living in sin and error, we can expect no less.
Unless we read again the writings of the apostles and see what they went through and how much they gave up just to be able to enter the Kingdom, our own participation in that Kingdom (if at all we are part of it) is nothing more than paying a ticket to enter a movie-house of our choice.
Jesus Christ left only one whole Body on Earth. Before He died, He prayed for it to be kept one. That is, by Heaven’s will the Body of Believers must strive to maintain the bond of fellowship in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We do not see this happening today for believers are not willing to abide by the prayer of Christ. We have partitioned that body to suit our own needs or the world’s needs. Pride remains a great obstacle to a Truly United Kingdom of God on Earth.
Our final Reality Test, #7, states: A voice has a body; that is, God made a Kingdom of His followers to serve as the living symbol of His reality in the present world and for all eternity. The reason God does not seem so real to many people throughout the world is because His supposed-kingdom is in disarray. And ignorance – especially among many believers themselves – plays a big part in this continuing spiritual crisis.
Be very careful then who you listen to. Or better still, read the Bible and let the Spirit of God speak to you directly. He is the Sole Teacher. Only His word can lead people to be one in Christ. While we await Christ’s return, we must give greater emphasis on unity. Before it is too late.
Finally, real disciples have the mind of Christ and, thus, think, pray and live like Him. For true Christians are true servants of Christ. Genuine believers offer their bodies as a living sacrifice to God daily. Yes, the price one must pay to wear the precious name of Christ is high. In return, however, one receives GLORY, HONOR and IMMORTALITY.
How much are we willing to give to obtain such great treasures? Sad to say, Christianity nowadays has become very cheap.
Making The Bible Your Persoal Word
Read: John 3; I Corinthians 10:23; Hebrews 11
After this short survey of the Bible, we hope the fresh Bible-reader would have somehow derived a passing view of how the world came into being and how God dealt and continues to deal with humans. Of course, this is assuming that all this time you have been reading the Bible at the same time as this series of lessons and have come to discover the faith required to make the Word come alive not merely as historical fact but also as a present and a future reality. That is to say, one must read and study not out of force like some students do in school just to “make the grade” but to find some benefit that is worth having, using and keeping for a lifetime and even beyond.
This is exactly what Bible study is all about: to find life and to have it more fully. Not that a person does not have life in the first place but to have the kind of life that one would want to have over and over again if the opportunity were given. Not just the quality of life that most people are looking for but the quantity or length of life that most, if not all people, would never have dreamed possible. Fullness or abundance of life can be compared to an abundant harvest of crops that comes season after season without fail. A family’s yearly food is assured. Good health is maintained. And a strong, happy and prosperous society can be built.
God raised up a family in the beginning – a family of human beings made after His own divine character. The abundance that He enjoyed in Heaven He shared with them – the life, the beauty, the wealth, the joy and the glory. The world then – Paradise – was man and woman’s unique personal world which God brought into existence by His Word. By His word therefore – meaning His power and His will – He gave them not just mere existence but also the ability to live life as a divine gift – freely and abundantly given. And that with the promise of perfect understanding of what life was all about.
Today, when we see TV shows chronicling the wonders and varieties of Nature and the limitless expanse and possibilities of outer space, we can only stand amazed at how much God has given us to enjoy – supposedly. For we do not always appreciate these things for what they can do to us to make us better people and to help lead us all to give thanks and honor to the Creator. On the contrary, we watch often as if we were watching an MTV or a commercial either to be entertained or to look for something we can make profit of. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is: We get deluded by the beauty and complexity of things and derive for ourselves self-serving ideas to hide or justify our inability to comprehend the totality of Creation. Why? Because we can not get ourselves to accept the simplicity of the Bible’s statement that God’s Word caused everything to exist out of nothing (the absence of matter and of order).
We give honor to the Creation but not to God. We worship material things, not the Living God.
Many scientists believe in the Big Bang Theory (the Universe arose out of a gigantic explosion of very dense matter) but hesitate to go beyond the question of what was there before the Big Bang. What or who caused it to happen? Chance, they say. Most schools today also teach Darwin’s Evolution Theory and people have been led to believe it as if it were an infallible law that exists and operates as surely as the law of gravity. Animals may certainly adapt to their environment to a certain extent but do we really think that a fish can gradually evolve into a bird and in the process somehow learn to fly by itself even if given four billion years to do so? Why, in the first place, would it desire to do so when there is apparently more food in the sea than on land and more so than in the air? Did it suddenly find the need to travel greater distances or instinctively hit upon the thrill of speed and height in flying? Who, in the first place, gave plants and animals the idea that they must exist at all or that they should survive? Or even compete? Again, the reason given is chance. One chance in a billion or more that the chemical elements would derive the intelligence to produce order and life.
This is the wisdom of the world! But wouldn’t real wisdom place intelligence before life? Or more precisely, that the wise and living God created life out of matter?
Humankind has solved the mystery of flight within less than 150 years and has passed the limits of our own globe. The same intelligence that helped Babel to build buildings to the sky led us to develop modern technology. Not by chance or by our own wisdom but by the wisdom that God has given us.
Only the wisdom of God can teach people and animals to have certain abilities. Yet, the same delusion that led Babel to challenge God can also lead us to be deceived and to deny God-given principles and privileges. The people of Babel recognized those abilities. In their pride, they wanted to reach the sky or, in effect, do the impossible through their own way of thinking.
But in a way, we also want to know everything – even without realizing that that is precisely what God wants us to do. However, like Babel then, we want to do it our way. And so, we go about it by formulating our own lofty ideas and building upon them. In reality, even if we have successfully escaped the Earth’s pull we are still constantly being pulled down by the gravity of material things and by our own human frailties . We have learned and yet we really do not know at all. Why? Because we seek out of selfish reasons. In pretending to be so wise or learned, we forget God and thus dishonor Him. Even the wise King Solomon whose unequaled wisdom came from Heaven failed to give honor to whom honor was due until he remembered God in his old age.
Knowledge can really give people a swollen head. (Sometimes, literally!) Think about those scientists who preserved Einstein’s brain to find out if he had more brain or a better brain. All they had was an ordinary 3-pound mass of dead gray cells. Isn’t this the same delusion that leads many people to worship the thing? (Research indeed has done us a lot of good. But that’s just half of the story. Cloning may soon surprise us when it rears its ugly head.)
The same delusion afflicted Babel. And God stopped those people not only because nothing would become impossible for them (that is, they would become lawless or without moral control, hence, become God-less) but also because they were doing it out of selfish pride. The same mistake caused Lucifer to rebel against God. In his own beauty he thought himself equal to God. He hit upon a seemingly good idea and began to build his unique personal world upon it – a world where he is supreme, where he has total control. And in the same manner, he (as Satan) led Adam and Eve to sin by making them believe that they can be like God – knowing everything even without God’s help.
Adam and Eve were children of God and were created in His image. They did not have to be like God for they were as gods; that is, they were God-like. They simply had to remain as obedient children of God to reach their potentials as humans bearing divine qualities. Whatever God may have given them and planned for them, their sinning destroyed all of it —everything.
Christ came to bring us back to the way that God had planned in the beginning – to share His heavenly glory with us. That is, according to His plan and His way. This is what the Bible is all about. Everything in it – the blood and guts, the blessings and the joys – all lead us to the promise of life given to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, to David and to the first Christians.
What then do we do with the Bible? And with our life?
Only one thing: Whereas the books of the Bible were stories that came out of the personal lives of believers and conquerors in faith, we must make those same words our personal words to make of our lives triumphs in faith. How?
A simple step requires us to make certain appropriate verses our very own. For instance, when Christ spoke: Knock and it will be opened to you, seek and you will find, ask and you will receive, a person can say to himself: I will knock and I will enter, I will seek and I will find, I will ask and I will receive. And believing this is so, one will eventually discover how powerfully and effectively faith works. For God is at work and He will never fail.
King David’s psalms have worked in this manner for centuries, giving hope and courage to millions. For when we read or sing Psalm 23, we do not just do so as if we were David the shepherd but as we really are and where we are at the moment. It becomes our psalm: The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything that I need. Amazingly, many have spoken those words joyfully in the midst of fear, grief and poverty!
What about Christ’s words to the apostles: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in Me? Any person can likewise say: I will not let my heart be troubled. I will trust in God, I will trust also in Jesus. If God says so and I believe strongly enough in my heart, then God will hear the desire in my heart and He will gladly grant that desire. For if we know how to give, how can we out-give the Giver of everything that is good?
The Bible, being the Word of God, has real power to create and change. It can create a new person in everyone. It can change our lives into better ones. Things we never imagined possible can become realities in our lives. God wills it so. No, He commands it!
Once God’s will becomes our own will, then we can truly say we are one with God and we can know that God is pleased to see us – His children – becoming like His Son Jesus. And God blesses His children. Once we acknowledge God’s rule over us, we also make His righteous Kingdom our own personal Kingdom. A Kingdom that dwells in our hearts and therefore can never be taken away from us. For God blesses His people.
God has power so great our imagination can not begin to comprehend it. What we see on TV or even in reality can not even match that power. For example, Christ walked on water. The image brings out a somewhat childish vision to many of us – a picture we associate with fairy tales or comic books. Today we even try to explain that ability by some scientific theory or, worse, reject it outright. But by simple faith one can believe it really did happen not because one is led to a blind acceptance of such events but because the Person of Christ is the very image of a loving and powerful God Who created – and thus understands – all things.
With Christ, nothing is impossible. Does this mean anyone can also walk on water? Peter did it, didn’t he? You can and you may, but as for the reason and the need, God alone in His wisdom and in His time will tell. Even the gift of prophecy, for that matter, is not given to everyone. As Paul wrote, “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. . . not everything is constructive.” Although he talked about proper Christian behavior, we can apply the same principle to set certain limits for ourselves.
And finally, lest we forget, Christ rose from the dead. And we will, too. (Isn’t this is much, much more desirable than walking on water?) Because He said, “I have overcome the world” (even before He died), let us also say in our hearts the same words – our personal words – “I will overcome the world!” – and resolve in our hearts not to let this world deceive us into believing its lies and sins. Only God’s word – with the Holy Spirit guiding our minds into the Truth and keeping us away from the Deceiver – can give us final victory and everlasting life. Then in the end, each of us can also say, “I have overcome the world!”
God wants us to make His business a very personal matter for He has so much at stake in our lives. He speaks so that we can hear and understand. He gives so that we can have perfect joy. He manages our lives daily so that we can honor Him. If we do not listen and work with Him, up close and personal, He will reject us and drive us away from His presence. Why? Because He owns our very lives. To deny Him is to deny our very existence. Only real fools would do that.
Let us humble ourselves, therefore, before the Almighty Lord and acknowledge His will for our lives. He will then lift us up where we can freely savor His grace.
My God. My Savior. My Word. My Life. My Glory. My Eternity. Let these be your own words from now on. If you do, you will truly be wealthy and happy forever.
Beginning the Christian Life and Walk
Read: Matthew 28:18-20; John3; John14:1; Mark 16:16; Acts 2; Romans 6:1-7; Romans 9:8; Titus 3:4-7; I Peter 3:21
We can not leave this survey of the Bible without answering the very important question: How does one become a child of God or a citizen of His Kingdom on Earth? Yes, somewhere in the Bible, we can find exactly how we can properly enter into a relationship with the Almighty Father. After thousands of years of living outside of Paradise, humans now have a way back through the gate opened for us by the Seed. For what purpose did Christ die and resurrect if not to destroy the works of Satan and to bring humans back into God’s presence? This is the grand news that zealous Christians never get tired of telling others.
Salvation is simply bringing back the former pure friendship or fellowship that our first parents had with the Creator. In fact, Christ told His disciples before He ascended to heaven that He would prepare a place where He would welcome His followers to live with Him for eternity. It appears that this is a place other than Paradise (which had been prepared before the Fall) and a far better place in Heaven where Christ Himself dwells. As in the Garden, we hope to see and talk to God in the “coolness” of Heaven in contrast to the “hotness” of the other place.
But we are already talking of the reward or the end-result of knowing God. What about the process of rebirth? How does one become saved?
The same question was posed by the Jews to the apostles on Pentecost Day. Those thousands of resident and visiting Jews came to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate a feast but instead found signs and wonders performed by the disciples. After hearing Peter’s explanation of those events and realizing that they had indeed crucified the Son of God, they asked: What shall we do?
In answer to this question, Peter said, “Be immersed (baptized) for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo,meaning to immerse or dip in water. Most words originally refer to a specific object or action (its intended meaning by the coiner or originator of the word) but can acquire other meanings due to current usage or to human innovations. (For instance, the word salvage used to mean only recovering a sunken ship, but in the Philippines it has come also to mean to assassinate a suspect in a crime!) Thus, the early Christians practiced the Great Commission of Christ as originally intended and, therefore, any other mode of baptism (sprinkling or pouring) other than immersion falls short of God’s command. The proper way alone can picture the birth of the new creature in Christ and the death or burial of the old person of sin. Obviously, God used these crucial aspects of human physical life to portray the great significance of spiritual renewal in His divine plan. For us to trifle with the form in any way would come close to blasphemy.
Many (as in millions of Christians), likewise, try to reduce the efficacy of this crucial step in the process of salvation by saying that baptism does not save, when the Bible clearly says it does. (Again, another human innovation in recent times. Who you believe and follow determines your spiritual condition for eternity.) Yes, they will tell you it is necessary but only as a symbol or sign of the salvation or the forgiveness already received upon mere belief and confession of one’s guilt. Hence, they will require a repentant sinner to say a short prayer asking God for forgiveness and inviting the Holy Spirit to enter that person’s heart. Immersion may follow after that, sometimes after a week or even a month.
But we will notice that Peter said, “Be immersed for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the . . . Holy Spirit.” Apparently, there was no prayer said or prescribed. (Why pray or ask for something that God is already commanding us to do?) It takes just a simple act of obedience by a human being together with an act of God. Be immersed, receive the gift – that is, the Holy Spirit Himself – coming from Christ in Heaven. This is the new birth Christ was telling Nicodemus about. Birth through Water and Spirit. Not through prayer and faith only. Not through sprinkling or pouring on the head (of an innocent infant, at that!). Not as a mere sign or as an optional act.
Baptism comes as a result of one’s faith in the Gospel of Christ. He died and He rose again. Through baptism we become one with Him in His death and resurrection. It is at that very moment that we virtually and effectively come into contact with Christ’s saving blood. It is the fulfillment of a command by Christ entrusted to the apostles just before He ascended to Heaven. And it is the final step in the whole process of rebirth (as the fruit of faith and salvation) which began with hearing the word of God (planting of the Seed, i.e., the Good News of Christ) and led to the development of faith in a person’s heart (growth of saving knowledge).
To give a simple illustration: planting (hearing the gospel) ––> growing (believing the message) ––> bearing fruit (receiving salvation).
As foretold thousands of years ago, through this rebirth we become “children of the promise” given to Abraham. The blessings then come with the gift from the Seed of our Father Abraham. And this occurs when God gives the Holy Spirit to a baptized person just as Christ received the Holy Spirit in His fullness after John baptized Him in River Jordan.
Yes, faith saves when it leads us to obey God’s pattern of words. That the command to be baptized invokes the name (meaning authority) of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit should cause us to think of the seriousness of the principle involved. Remember that Christ received the authority from Heaven to give this Great Commission and based on that authority He commanded the disciples to execute God’s plan just before He ascended. When He returns, what do you think He will first ask His disciples?
The example of the 3,000 Jews baptized on Pentecost Day is simple enough to understand and follow. That very day, right after the message was given, they were immersed in water and gifted with the Holy Spirit.
The main reason why ancient Rome fell was because so many barbarians brought in pagan practices and beliefs into Roman social life thus causing moral and social decay. Today, Christianity in general pictures that corrupted society. All because of subtle personal interpretations of God’s word that have come to be accepted as part of Gospel Truth.
In summary, the only things required of a candidate for baptism are: an expressed faith in Christ as Son of God, Lord and Savior and true repentance (the desire to live a righteous life). All those pre-baptismal seminars given to prepare a person to know the rules or laws of the church only add burdens to a person direly in need of rest and freedom. But then, bear in mind that they are not actually entering God’s Kingdom but a kingdom of, by and for this world. If their teachers knew any better, they themselves would be the first to throw away their own chains of false Christianity .
We speak against these unbiblical ways not to confuse the readers’ minds but to remind them to be always on guard against false teachings. This is just one of them; there exist so many more. As surely as Satan crept in the Garden at the creation of Adam and Eve, he moves near the feet of those who seek salvation, hoping to make them stumble. And when a person falls, Satan then captures and devours that person’s soul. For rarely does he work when it is too late. He is there to corrupt just before good things happen. Tragically, his sheep’s clothing seems to work more effectively on people who are looking for the light than on those who walk blindly in darkness.
Having read this warning, the reader would do well to know that in all cases of conversion in the New Testament, there was always baptism involved. Nevertheless, although essential for salvation, baptism is not the only essential matter worth considering. (After all, water by itself has no magical power to save. God’s Word alone has that power.) The would-be disciple involves himself or herself mentally and emotionally in this process of transformation from sinner to saint, from fallen to saved. One knowingly crosses the line between death and eternal life. By it, one attains a clear conscience, having received the assurance that all offenses have been erased or paid for by Christ’s sacrifice. With this washing away of filth from a person’s life (hence, the “washing of rebirth”), God also adds that person to His Kingdom of priests and chosen people. As Christ Himself said, no unrighteous person can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But one who enters becomes a true child of the one and true Holy Father and a real Citizen of Heaven.
Applying then the principle of personalizing God’s word, say this to yourself with conviction: As commanded by the Lord Jesus, I will repent of my sins and be immersed for the forgiveness of my sins and I will receive the Holy Spirit as His gift. Remember, these are essentially the same words spoken by the apostles as they were led to speak by the Spirit of God. Anyone who speaks these words, speaks then as if God is speaking through that person. Having said these words then, do it with full assurance of salvation. The Lord will lead you to a true believer who will assist you. Thank and praise Jesus for this great gift!
What comes after will depend on how a person utilizes the blessings and privileges he or she has received in that Kingdom just as the Jews had in the kingdom of Israel. A tree grows and bears fruit only as much as it can derive nourishment from the ground. Eternal salvation is assured (as a promised reward, not as an obligation from God) for a Christian, but perfection comes only with a surrendered life. The final result of one’s life story will depend totally on how one walks the daily life of a Christian. Yes, the way to Heaven is straight and narrow (for many, this means boring and lonely, and sometimes, it can be). Moreover, it is as dark as it is rugged. But as the last book of the Bible keeps on saying: He who endures to the end will receive the crown of life.
Let the word of God be your personal, daily guiding light on the way to Heaven. For having read this survey, you must now turn your whole attention to other things the Lord will speak directly to your heart through the Bible. Letting His Word dwell in you simply means letting Him live in and through your life. He is in you and near you always. Let His love work through you. Until you will be found in conformity to the perfect image of Jesus Christ. And if you follow His example, then in the end, you will be able to say with confidence as Paul did: I have endured to the end and I know I will receive the crown of life.
May your journey to life eternal be filled with love, peace, joy and victory in Jesus Christ. Amen.