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One Bible = One Belief: The Dilemma of Biblical Authenticity


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The authenticity of The Bible has come under increasing criticism in the last 150 years from a plurality of sources. However, that is largely to be expected. As the Bible itself explains, it is impossible for the unsaved person who (by definition) is uninhabited by the Spirit of God to understand the things of God:

“Now we have received… the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God… But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:12, 14

Therefore, criticism from such sources is hardly offensive.

What is more disturbing, however, is the number of people who identify themselves as Believers/Christians yet similarly cast doubt on the Bible as representing the pure and unadulterated, complete and unabridged truth of God. Can the Bible, for a Believer, be anything less than completely authentic?

The Basics of Biblical Authenticity

To explore the notion of the authenticity of Scripture, let us consider what The Bible is and what The Bible says about itself.

SOURCE of Scripture

First, let us examine its source

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16a

If ALL scripture is God-inspired then which parts did a perfect God get wrong? Clearly, if God is perfect then the Scripture He authored must be perfect too. Nevertheless, some will say, “Man has corrupted the Scripture.” Certainly, mankind has tried to corrupt the scripture and has had some illusory success. However, if the Scripture points the way to God, we must believe that God Himself will preserve it; that, despite mankind’s greatest effort, the omnipotent God will uphold His Holy Word. For we know that:

“…faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” ~ Romans 10:17

If God does not safeguard His Word, what hope can we have of coming to Him in faith to receive salvation? What would be the point of Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross? Moreover, what is the identity of the God whom we would seek? Surely, we would not be able to find Him through a flawed imperfect scripture. Even more appalling, each person would have to define God for himself because there is no reliable standard. Is my ‘god’ better than yours?

PURPOSE of Scripture

Second, let us examine how The Bible defines its purpose:

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Doctrine is fundamental truths about God, reproof is the act of verifying our actions against God’s truth, correction is the act of replacing the false in our heart with God’s truth and righteousness is the condition of living/walking in God’s truth. In other words, ALL Scripture tells us the truth; it shows us the difference between the truth and the false; it enables us to replace the false in our lives/thinking with the truth; and it teaches us to walk/live in the truth. In short, ALL Scripture is all about the truth ALL-ways and therefore must its self be true.

Now the determined naysayer may question the legitimacy of the Scripture claiming its own validity. Such antagonists demand independent verification. However, this is logically futile since an independent document would have to be of the same or higher qualitative standing as the Scripture. One cannot test the accuracy of a computer with an abacus; one cannot calibrate a micrometer with a yardstick.

Consequently, if there exists a document of comparative standing to the Bible then it must be the Bible. To wit, if there is a device exactly (no more and no less) as accurate as a micrometer then it is the equivalent to a micrometer.

Likewise, if there is a document superior in every way to the Bible, then it would be superfluous to validate the Bible; it would simply render the Bible obsolete. We don’t do our calculations on an abacus and then check the results with a computer. We simply use the computer to do our calculations.

Accordingly, before questioning whether ALL Scripture is true ALL-ways one must answer the question:

“Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” ~ James 3:11

With the only reasonable answer being “No”, one must conclude the Scripture to be ALL true or ALL false.

VALUE of Scripture

Third, let us examine what Scripture says about its value/status.

“The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver. …I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” (Psalm 119:72, 127b)

“I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” ~ Psalm 138:2

God holds His Word in a much higher status than His Name! There are various names for God in Scripture (Elohim, Jehovah, etc.). But it is Scripture itself that explains the meaning of those names. In other words, Scripture gives us both the richest and the most accurate description of God. Names do give identity, but to really understand someone we have to know more than just their name. It is not sufficient just to call on His Name; we must also get to know His character. And that character is uniquely defined in His Word.

The Crisis of Biblical Authenticity

If the Scripture is authentic, indispensable and invaluable, why does it come under unrelenting attack? To answer this question, let us explore three crises that face us when we confront the implications of the authenticity of Scripture: Conformation, Consequences, and Comprehension.

The Crisis of CONFORMATION

One problem with an authentic Scripture is that it demands our conformation. Scripture defines good and evil and demands that we choose the former and reject the latter. On issues/subjects that matter, Scripture delineates a single path for us to follow. However, because of a desire to have things our way, we are tempted to ignore inconvenient parts of Scripture. To justify this, of course, requires that we deny and decry the validity of the parts we don’t like. So we try to make Scripture conform to our lives, instead of conforming our lives to Scripture. This has been true since the time of the prophets: e.g., (Jeremiah 7:1-34) the Israelites ignored the Scriptures that warned them of impending punishment for their rejection of God, and only focused on the parts that told them of God’s abiding love/protection (because of the presence of His temple).

Consider the following conversation Jesus had with His disciples:

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.”
He saith unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.~ Matthew 16:13-17

“For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.” (Psalm 33:4)

People had various ideas about Jesus’ identity and His ministry. Some thought (ostensibly due to mistaken identity) Jesus was John the Baptist: here to teach them about true righteousness. Some thought he was Elias (Elijah) whose return had been prophesied (Malachi 4:5): here to work great miracles. Yet others thought he was Jeremias (Jeremiah): here to prophecy of things to come. Jesus’ did teach, prophesy and work miracles. But He was far more than a teacher, prophet, or a miracle worker. He was The Christ: The Messiah! He came to bring salvation through His death and fellowship (with God) though His resurrection.

If the people could hold on to their preferred definitions of Jesus, then they could ignore His true purpose and the life changing challenge that He presented. If Jesus was just a teacher, then scholarly communication was all that was required. If Jesus was just miracle worker, then they just needed to bring him their sick/problems. If Jesus was just a prophet, they only needed to heed his warnings of impending doom. But, if Jesus was Messiah they had to yield to Him every facet of their very lives. Their concepts, their values, their goals, their aspirations would no longer be their own to shape; they would now have to conform to Him.

Regardless of our noble thoughts/definitions of Jesus only one definition of His identity is true: Messiah. All other definitions are, at best, only partial truths and therefore, by definition, false. Moreover, the true identity of Jesus was/is not obtained from human deliberation; it was/is given by divine revelation (vs. 17). Therefore, it does not matter who we think Jesus is. What matters is who God says Jesus is in His divinely inspired authentic Word.

In short, Jesus does not conform to our notions/ideas. Rather, we must conform our notions/ideas to who Jesus really is. Moreover, by extension, we don’t define who God is and what a ‘reasonable’ God does. Instead, we learn from God’s Word who He is and how He reigns over the universe in justice and righteousness. We must conform our philosophy to God’s directives, as they are described in His Word.

Crucially, this is the basis on which the Kingdom of God is built and the source of power for all believer’s:

And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.~ Matthew 16:17-19

“The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Psalm 18:2)

The kingdom of heaven is founded on the revealed truth of God accepted through the faith of an individual: that forms the basis of the church (Ephesians 2:8-9) and it empowers the church to perform the work of God here on earth (Ephesians 2:10).

If we don’t accept God’s revealed truth by faith, if we hang on to our own notions/ideas of who God/Jesus is, then the church falls apart for lack of a foundation and the remnants of the church as we (not God) choose to define it is powerless, ineffectual in changing the fabric and outcome of the society it inhabits.

The crisis of conformation is that we must either conform our ideas to the Scripture or conform the Scripture to our ideas. If we accept the divinely inspired truth in God’s authentic Word, it means that our lives have to change. But, if we can define which parts of Scripture are true and which parts are tainted by historical bias, then we can have the scripture that suits us.

Therefore, when Scripture says, e.g., homosexuality is wrong (Genesis 19:1-25, Romans 1:16-32); we say that was just historical context. We pretend that God is ONLY love (two references in scripture) and choose to rationalize and/or dispensationalize all Biblical evidence that God is JUST; that God is HOLY; that God is set apart from sin (as He defines it) and will punish the guilty.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:3-4

The Crisis of CONSEQUENCES

Another problem with having an authentic Scripture is that it outlines consequences. Authentic Scripture defines absolute truths AND absolute consequences to ignoring those truths.

“…Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” (Daniel 5:27)

“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth… And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD… For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed… If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good… Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel.” ~ Joshua 24: 14-23

“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” ~ Revelation 21:7-8

“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” ~ Revelation 22:14-15

God defines righteousness and salvation and describes their consequences. Similarly, God defines unrighteousness and sinfulness and describes their consequences. The crisis of consequences is that they (the consequences) cannot be ignored if Scripture is authentic. If Scripture is true, then there is a price to pay for ignoring its teachings. Therefore, the only way to continue on our own autonomous path through life is by presuming that Scripture has somehow misstated the consequences. “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” Because God doesn’t just love, God also judges.

Because the consequences in an authentic Scripture are inconvenient and unpleasant, it is preferable for many to ignore its authenticity instead.

The Crisis of COMPREHENSION

Yet another problem with a divinely-inspired, authentic Scripture is that it is difficult to fully understand.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” ~ Isaiah 55:9

There are many difficult concepts that believers have wrestled mightily with almost from Jesus’ resurrection. For example: Predestination vs. free will; eternal security vs. temporal insecurity of salvation; the gifts of the Spirit; the Rapture; the millennial rule of Jesus Christ; the identity of the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation, etc. The crisis of comprehension is whether to accept by faith what is difficult to understand or to discard those things that elude our understanding. Shall we choose faith in God or strength of (human) logic?

It is hard to understand why God permits such dreadful suffering in this world, especially when that suffering is “close to home”. Does that mean the Scripture is false when it tells us that God loves us? We should never forget that God calls us to faith in Him, not to logic. He tells us to trust in Him, not in our understanding.

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-7

Newton’s laws of motion are not wrong because we don’t understand them. And they don’t suddenly become true when we do understand them. Likewise, the truth of Scripture does not depend on our ability to comprehend it; it depends solely on the Omniscience of God.

Salvation and Biblical Authenticity

The purpose of Scripture is first to bring us to faith in God, which then enables us to receive salvation through the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). The second purpose of Scripture is to enable us to know God, which empowers us to serve Him by accomplishing the work He preordained for us to do (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 3:8-11). Central to both these functions, is the identity of God. All of Scripture works in harmony to present the true and complete identity of God. If we selectively remove certain parts of Scripture (because we deem them to be irrelevant or in some way inaccurate), then we distort the identity of God. Consequently, one must ask: “Which God do you have faith in?” A god that conforms to our desired image is not god at all. Such a god is merely the figment of our Sophistri-cation.

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)

Moreover, salvation requires faith in the true God: the God described by the Authentic Scripture: The Bible. If we do not believe in the God of the Scripture, then we are not saved by the God of the Scripture. Every god defines his/her/its own terms of salvation.

The God of the pure unabridged Scriptures defines His terms too. If we do not like His salvation plan, we are free to construct our own god from the parts of the scripture we find convenient to our lifestyle and philosophy. But, make no mistake, that god is NOT the God of the Bible.

And the Heaven described by the Bible is reserved for those who believe in the God of the Bible. But, the Hell described in the Bible is available for those who reject the God of the Bible: whether they believe in it or not.

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" ~Romans 3:23

Sin Doesn’t Come in Sizes

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Recently someone asked (paraphrase): “I’ve been praying to God for help to overcome my addiction. Why hasn’t He helped me to do it?”

This question is not uncommon and reveals some problems with the way that we think about sin and how God works in our lives to enable us to overcome the power of sin. To better understand this, it is useful to first define what an addiction is.  An addiction is any action/practice or sequence of actions/practices that is repeated enough that a permanent (but not necessarily irreversible) change in the brain architecture of the addicted occurs in order to perpetuate the action/practice.  Addictions can range from thumb-sucking to drug-abuse, from workaholic-ism to pornography.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” ~Romans 3:23

Generally, addictions are only overcome when a new agent hierarchically replaces the importance of the addiction in the mind of the addict: when a competing structure develops.  Even when this happens, the neuron-network associated with the addiction does not disappear immediately:  it takes time for the brain to gradually reorganizes its structure.   Hence, the likelihood of relapse is an ever-present danger for many.  The key to overcoming addictions and potential relapses is the strength and constancy of the new agent neural-network.

As long as the neuronal pathways of the new agent fire more strongly and consistently than that of the addiction, then the addict is in a good position to overcome his/her addiction.     For example, kids usually stop sucking their thumbs when social pressures related to the habit and to the resulting orthodontic damage supersede any comfort they got from it.   Likewise, some drug abusers are “scared straight” by the fear of dying from the drug use.  Fear of death overrides the neural-network of the addiction, thereby allowing them to quit.

It is true that more people are addicted to various actions than they might realize.  This unawareness arises because people mostly only consider socially unacceptable habits as addictions.  More important, however, is to realize that ALL addictions are sins, because they are, by definition, the antithesis of self-control and the Christian is commanded to bring his/her entire body under the control of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The essential difference between addictions and “regular” sins, is that addictions are sins that have become “hardwired” in the brain with an associated reward (usually dopamine) to reinforce the behavior. But, as will be argued below, the cure for addictions and non-addiction sins is the same:  Love for God must grow in us (in our minds) until it is preeminent.  That love for God will then overwhelm the addiction network as well as all other desires to sin.

“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” ~James 1:14-15

That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days… ~Deuteronomy 30:20a

Finally, we must avoid conflating salvation with the absence of addiction.  Only God determines who is saved (addiction or not). Moreover, the Scripture makes it clear that sinlessness is neither a prerequisite for salvation nor sanctification.  That means some Believers might be in bondage to unsavory addictions.  However, while we should always clearly and unequivocally declare addictions (unsavory or not) as sin.  We cannot refute the work of God in the addicted. Some of us have further to go than others.  And, the person addicted to food should never look down on the person addicted to drugs.  Indeed, both are listed together as heading for the same end:

For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags. ~Proverbs 23:21

Let us, therefore, examine the Proper Perspective for sin, the Prescribed Procedure to overcome sin and God’s Precious Promise to never give up on us.

THE PROPER PERSPECTIVE

First, the question (above) suggests that the addiction is a bigger sin than the other sins that we (including the questioner also) all struggle with. Certainly, if God took addictions from all of our lives it is unlikely that any of us (including the questioner) would be perfect. More pointedly, eliminating addictions of any sort, does not guarantee that we will draw closer to God’s and walk in obedience.

The problem here is the perception that some sins, such as addictions, are worse than others. This notion implies that if I get rid of some “bad”, really “ugly” sins then I will be a better person; even though the “not-so-bad”, “not-so-ugly” sins remain. But, that is not God’s calculus. Romans 14:23b tells us that sin is anything that is not done in a faith response to God.

…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. ~Romans 14:23b

And, Romans 6:23a tells us that all sin has the same punishment.

For the wages of sin is death… ~Romans 6:23a

So, we must deduce that ALL sins are equally offensive to God.

Therefore, God’s ultimate purpose is not to excise the “uglier” sins (such as addictions) while the “not-so-ugly” sins remain. His purpose is to enable us to overcome ALL sin. And to accomplish this, Romans 12:1-2 tells us that we should offer ourselves to God and allow Him to transform us, by the renewing of our minds. Only then will we know His will and have the power to walk in it: the power to overcome ALL sin!

“All unrighteousness is sin…” 1 John 5:17a

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. ~Romans 12:1-2

Accordingly, God focuses on the state of our ‘minds’, i.e., our mindset, rather than any specific sin. God intends to change our entire attitude to sin, so that we will choose His way instead of going our own way.

God sent The Holy Spirit to indwell our lives in order to change the way we think about life: to replace our values with God’s values. Therefore, we must constantly ask ourselves: “Am I beginning to look at life through God’s eyes?”; “Do I delight in the things that please God?”

If I overcome an addiction but my mindset is unchanged then I have not benefitted, because sins (even if they don’t look as “ugly” as an addiction) are still rampant in my life.  On the other hand, as God transforms our minds, all the sin-strongholds in our lives are likewise weakened.

To be clear, God is NOT ‘comfortable’ with an addiction or any other sin: God hates sin! And that’s why His purpose is to overcome ALL sin, in your life and in my life.

THE PRESCRIBED PROCEDURE

Overcoming sin, even addictions, does not occur magically. Moreover, God never forces us to obey Him; He gave us free will. However, God will always lead us to a point where we choose to change.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. ~Psalm 51:1-4

However, we Christians often want God to override our wills. We want God to take away enough of our freedom of choice so that decisions are “easier” to make. We want, somehow, not to have to make the decision not to sin: we want God to make that decision for us, to have Him force His will on us.

“…my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation.” ~Psalm 69:13

In other words, we want God to treat the symptoms instead of the disease. The disease is a heart (mind) that is not completely yielded to God. And sins, all types of sins, are the symptoms. As a good doctor would, God intends to treat the disease so that the symptoms will end. God will not remove our sins and leave behind un-yielded hearts. Indeed, it’s our heart that He is after.

Thus, we should stop our preoccupation with ‘ugly’ sins (like certain addictions) and instead seek to draw ever closer to God to enable our ‘mental’ transformation to accelerate. To that end God has given us these keys for success:

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. ~Psalm 119:11

By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. ~Proverbs 16:6

First, it is the word of God (the truth of God) in our hearts that washes sin out of our lives. As we study, memorize and meditate on His word, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, it renews our mind. As we orient our lives according to the Scripture, as we base our lives on His commands, we are able to overcome sin, because we are walking in daily fellowship with our God.

Second, we must accept His mercy. Accepting God’s mercy is not being presumptuous. Presumptuousness arises when we demand/expect God to sanction our plans; when we tell God what to do. To accept God’s mercy is to acknowledge our inadequacy. It is to realize that our transformation, from a self-focused mindset to a God-focused mindset, is slow and sometimes painful BECAUSE of our weakness.

It is the combination of God’s mercy, as He patiently works with us, and His Word, as it transforms our mindset, which ultimately breaks the power of sin over our lives.
Therefore, we do not draw back or hide from God when we fall into any sin; neither the ‘ugly’ ones, nor the not so ‘ugly’ ones. God instructs us to confess our sins, not hide from Him (like Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:8). He then MERCIFULLY promises to forgive us (1 John 1:9) and continue the transformation process in us (Philippians 1:6).

“…This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 3:13-14

We must never allow the devil to separate us from God. The closer we draw to our Father, the faster our transformation and the sooner our victory over all forms of sin, even the uglier-looking ones!!! We should take courage, continue to walk with God and continue to allow Him to change us. We must journey deep into God’s word and fellowship with Him, even when we are discouraged.

THE PRECIOUS PROMISE

Finally, let us always remember

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. ~Philippians 1:6

If God has started the transformation process in us, He won’t stop working (even if He has to use trials to get it done).

God won’t quit on you… so don’t quit on yourself!!!

.

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Reflections-in-the-WORD would like to thank INSPIKS for inspiration and for insightful comments on this topic.

Foundations of Faith

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.” ~ Genesis 22:8

Our text is taken from a conversation between Abraham and Isaac. As a test of Abraham’s faith, God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. As Abraham and Isaac approached the place the sacrifice was to be made, Isaac, unaware of God’s request, asked his father where was the sacrifice that would be offered.

“…And [Isaac] said, ‘Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’” ~ Genesis 22:7b

This account is one of the most well-known and discussed passages in the Bible. It concludes when God tells Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac and commends Abraham for his faith. Significantly, the occasion foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus several centuries later.

However, for this study, we want to focus on Abraham’s response to Isaac’s question, because it demonstrates the twin foundations for real faith: Obedience and Attitude. If we are going to live by faith, as God’s word says (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, 2 Corinthians 5:7, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38), then these foundations must be appropriated into our everyday walk with God.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
~ Hebrews 11:6

Obedience

The most arresting feature of the account is Abraham’s unquestioning obedience. How many of us, if asked by God to sacrifice a child, would respond in obedience without even a question? Yet that is exactly what Abraham did, and it is what was required of him and is required of us.

Why?

Because God is.

If God exists, then, as the creator of the universe, He must be obeyed. God is not omniscient some of the time. And we are never omniscient at any time. Consequently, the only permissible response to God’s commands is obedience.

What argument could we present to God to demonstrate that His command is unwise or unjust or untimely?

“…so they went both of them together.” ~ Genesis 22:8b

Our text shows that Abraham wisely focused on obeying God rather than on understanding or challenging God’s command. Because God is sovereign and Abraham is not.

Consider the following passage:

“…Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” ~ 1 Samuel 15:22-23a

Obedience is more important than anything we do suffer or sacrifice for God. And disobedience/rebellion is as bad as being a witch, i.e., a devil worshipper. In other words, if you are going to disobey God you might as well serve the devil!

Indeed, even stubbornness, even being unwilling to obey, equates to loving sin and worshipping idols instead of God.

In short, disobedience is evidence that God is not God to us. Clearly, God is not our God if we don’t obey Him.

Jesus put it this way:

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” ~ Matthew 7:22-23

It’s not what we do for God that matters. What matters is what we do for God in obedience to Him. All works outside of God’s will are not just pointless, but also evil.

Abraham spent no time questioning or challenging God’s commands, and neither should we. Like Abraham, our energy must be directed to obeying God.

We cannot exercise faith in God without obeying Him. Obedience to God is then fundamental to faith in God. And one cannot exist without the other. To live a life of faith is to obey whatever we know to be God’s will for us. Even when we don’t understand.

Attitude

We can gain insight into Abraham’s thinking by carefully examining his answer to Isaac. First, notice that Abraham used the future tense in his answer.

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide…” ~ Genesis 22:8a

But God had already identified Isaac as the sacrifice. Hence, Abraham’s use of the future tense suggests that he believed/hoped God would provide a substitute for Isaac.

We also see that notion expressed in the next words:

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb.” ~ Genesis 22:8a

Abraham anticipated/hoped/believed that God would work things out so that the sacrifice would end up being a lamb instead of his son, Isaac.

Why did Abraham believe that? What gave Abraham hope?

Abraham knew God. Abraham had walked with God and knew that God was just, that God loved him. Abraham also trusted God’s previous promises. God had promised Abraham descendants through Isaac. And God keeps His promises. Clearly, God would work everything out.

Abraham could not see God’s plan, but he had seen/experienced God’s love and God’s faithfulness. Abraham knew God was good, so there was no reason to fear.

To have faith in God we must believe that He is good that He loves us and has our best interest at heart. Otherwise, when the storms come we will jump ship, not believing that Captain Jesus loves us enough and is powerful enough to bring us safely to harbor.

But God’s Word tells us:

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

And

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, [39] Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:38-39

Therefore, Abraham’s hope was well founded. And if we believe God is good, as Abraham did, then we will be able to put our faith/trust in Him regardless of our circumstances.

Closing Thoughts

Abraham’s answer to Isaac contains another compelling insight.

“…God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering…” ~ Genesis 22:8

God provides His own sacrifice!

Every offering originates from God. We can offer nothing that God hasn’t already provided. Therefore, sacrifices were never about the offering, they were about the heart, the attitude, the mindset, of the offerer.

God was testing Abraham, not Isaac: It wasn’t sacrificing Isaac that mattered, it was whether Abraham would show up. Was he willing to obey God in the ultimate test of faith?

When God calls on us, will we show up? Or will we be missing in action? Our responses to God reveal to us, and everyone watching, what we think of Him. Our responses will reveal if He really is our God. Our responses will reveal whether we believe He is good, fair, just, and worthy of our love.

Finally, the geographical area where the Abraham had built the altar for Isaac is where Jerusalem was eventually established and where Jesus was later crucified. God’s replacement for Isaac was not the “ram caught in [the] thicket” (Genesis 22:13).

As Abraham had prophesied, God would “provide himself a lamb” and that Lamb was to be Jesus. God will never ask us to do more for Him than He will do for us.

Consider Your Ways: Four Obstacles to Fruitfulness

The time spanning the last days of a year and the beginning of a new year is always a popular time for self-evaluation. What did we accomplish? How well did we do? What could we have done better? What should we target in the new year?

In the book of Haggai, the prophet challenged the Israelites to reflect on their accomplishments over the years since their return to Israel from seventy years of captivity in Babylon.

Through King Cyrus, God had commanded the Israelites to return home to rebuild the Temple:

“Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.” ~ Ezra 1:2-3

However, several years had passed (by the time of Haggai, three kings had succeeded Cyrus) and only the Temple’s foundation had been completed.

It was time for the Israelites to evaluate their performance.

“Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
Ye have sown much, and bring in little;
ye eat, but ye have not enough;
ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink;
ye clothe you, but there is none warm;
and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.” ~ Haggai 1:5-7

God had given them on each task to complete on their return. But, after many years, their efforts had borne little fruit. Why?feedback

Like the Israelites, Believers have also been assigned a task: Each and every Christian has been called to participate in the establishment/edification of the church (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:7-16) for we are also involved in the building of a temple:

“…Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” ~ Ephesians 2:20b-22

However, many of us (too many of us!), when we reflect on our lives as Christians find ourselves not doing much better with our project than the Israelites did with theirs. Many years have passed by and we haven’t accomplished much beyond the foundations of our faith. And some of us haven’t even done that.

It is time for us to evaluate our own performance.

“For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work…” ~ Galatians 6:3-4a

Towards that end, we can gain insight from Haggai, as God’s Word through him reveals four issues that had hindered the Israelites’ fruitfulness then and hinder our fruitfulness now.

Plutocratic Priorities

“Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” ~ Haggai 1:4

A cieled house was one that had panels on the interior walls. Paneled walls were fashion statements and status symbols: a display of wealth. The Israelites had had enough time and prosperity to indulge themselves in fancy houses but had yet to complete the construction of God’s house. They had prioritized their own houses above God’s house.

Whenever our priorities are misplaced, whenever our personal agendas are held above God’s plans for us, we will find it hard to serve Him: We will find it hard to be fruitful.

Indeed, Jesus provided us with the right approach to life:

“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,” ~ John 4:34

And

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” ~ John 6:38

If Jesus dedicated His life to accomplishing The Father’s will, shouldn’t we all do the same?? Shouldn’t I do as Jesus did?

Every moment I spend doing my will is at the expense of doing God’s will. The less I yield to God, the less He can work through me. The less God works through me the less fruitful I will be.

Who is the priority in your life?

Hardened Hearts

Then answered Haggai, and said, “So is this people, and so is this nation before me”, saith the Lord; “and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean…
…“I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me”, saith the Lord.” ~ Haggai 2:14 & 17

The hearts of the Israelites had become hardened through neglect: The more they concerned themselves with themselves, the less sensitive they were to God’s overtures/appeals. Consequently, even when they tried to do right, they were wrong: No one can serve God on his/her own terms. The Israelites couldn’t and neither can we.

Indeed, this principle has been taught from the beginning: Cain’s offering was rejected because it was not what God wanted him to bring (Genesis 4:1-7). Before ever coming to offer a sacrifice Cain should have asked God what offering God would be pleased with having. That would have required Cain to have a love relationship with God: one in which Cain walked humbly with God seeking to do God’s will not Cain’s will.

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said,

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” ~ Matthew 15:8-9

Fundamental to serving God is our relationship with Him. Without a relationship with God, we will never be fruitful. If our hearts are far from God, if we do not have a relationship with Him, we cannot serve Him.

Moreover, without a relationship with God, everything we do is tainted. Indeed, as long as we are apart from Jesus we are unable to produce any good fruit.

[Jesus said:] “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered…” ~ John 15:4-6a

How is your relationship with God going? Are you walking closely, are you joined to Jesus?

Feckless Faith

Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, “This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’S house should be built.” ~ Haggai 1:2

To understand the issues contained in this verse, it is necessary to read Ezra 3-6 for the “backstory”. In those chapters, we learn that the neighboring nations had opposed the building of the Temple and lied to the Persian rulers in a letter claiming that the Temple was a means by which the Israelites would start a rebellion.

As a result, the Israelites ceased their work on the Temple, never bothering to challenge the false report. It wasn’t until many years later, under the divinely appointed leadership of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua, the High Priest, that the Israelites resumed building the Temple.

But the big question is, why didn’t they resist the false narrative of their jealous neighbors? Why didn’t they stand up for the truth? Why did they give up so quickly?

As soon as their treacherous neighbors challenged them, they gave up: essentially saying, “Oh well, it looks like this is not the right time to build the temple.”

Sadly, we frequently respond in the same way. At the first sign of opposition, many modern-day Believers simple drop their tools and go back home, saying, “Oh well, it looks like this is not the right time to do God’s work.”

But “God’s work” is work: it takes blood, sweat and tears, and the willingness to stand strong against those who oppose God and His church.

Jesus said,

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” ~ John 15:18-20a

Moreover, if we are going to do anything for God we should expect opposition. And if we are going to do anything GREAT for God we should expect GREAT opposition.

So why are we so weak so often?

The answer is that it is always easier to give up than stand up. To give up appears to cost little, while to stand up might cost us everything. We would rather lose our status in the Kingdom of God than lose our status in the kingdom of man.

…the high priest asked them, saying, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” ~ Acts 5:27b-29

For the Israelites, it was easier to just give up rather than risk incurring the wrath of the King of Persia. Somehow the Israelites were more concerned about offending the King of Persia than offending God. Likewise, we are often more concerned about upsetting the world than upsetting God: Worldly approval trumps God’s approval for far too many of us.

However, it is our fruitfulness that validates our faith. To be fruitless is to be faithless. The failure to complete the mission of building the Temple testified of the weakness of the Israelites faith. In the same manner, we only serve God as much as our faith allows us to do.

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” ~ James 2:26

Can we bear fruit without faith??

Voided Vision

“Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” ~ Haggai 2:3

When the foundation of the temple was laid (Ezra 3:11-13), there was a mixture of joy and sadness. Some were glad to have the work started on the new Temple. But others remembered the greatness of the previous Temple and mourned the comparative poverty of the new one.

However, both groups got it wrong. The significance of the Temple was neither its physical glory nor just its existence/utility. The first Temple was great because (for a time) it was filled with God’s glory (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). And the first Temple stopped being great when God’s glory left the Temple (because of Israel’s/Judah’s sin, Ezekiel 10).

The new Temple would be even greater than the first, not because of its opulence, but because it would be visited by The Messiah: Jesus would preach and teach in its courts!

The Israelites in the time of Haggai didn’t capture that vision, even though their Scripture contained many prophecies of the Messiah’s coming. It is always easier to work towards a goal if we have a vision of what we are working towards. That is a major reason for the prophecies in the Bible. God wants us to know ahead of time that our work will not be in vain.

God’s Word tells us that our work for His Kingdom will be rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:12-17). His Word tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). His Word tells us that Jesus will return and we will be with Him (1 Corinthians 15).  His Word tells us everything we need to see the vision He has for us, His children.

If we capture the vision of the future described in God’s Word, every decision will have more meaning, every step will have more purpose, and every opportunity will have more value.

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” ~ Isaiah 55:11

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” ~ Proverbs 29:18a

To be fruitful, we need an idea of what we are being fruitful for. But, to get the vision, we must know God’s Word, for the vision is contained therein. God’s Word will not return to Him void/empty/unfulfilled, and neither will the vision outlined in His Word.

Closing Thoughts

God has prepared work for each and every Believer to do (Ephesians 2:10). He has equipped us to do that work (Ephesians 4:7-16). He will supply us with all the wisdom we need to complete the work effectively (James 1:5-8). He requires of His children that we are faithful in doing what He has set before us to accomplish.

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” ~ 1 Corinthians 4:2

As each of us evaluates our own performance, perhaps the most important question to ask is whether we have been faithful. Have I done what God has called me to do? Have I even tried? God is well aware of the particular challenges each of us faces. But He still requires faithfulness.

It’s time to get to work: we have a Temple to build.

No Room Made for Jesus while He Made Room for Us

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” ~ Luke 2:7

The phrase “…no room for them in the inn” is perhaps the most revealing comment in the beautiful Christmas story. In just a few words it describes both man’s problem and God’s solution. The issue here is not that there was no room specifically for Joseph and Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus. Neither the guests in the inn nor the innkeeper was aware that the Messiah was nestled in Mary’s womb. The shame was that no one was willing to give up their place in the inn for a heavily pregnant young woman.

Interestingly, there was nothing in the Mosaic Law that required any special treatment of pregnant women. Therefore, to make room for Mary, someone in the inn would have to be internally motivated to respond to her plight. Someone in the inn would need to have enough compassion to show her mercy. But no one in the inn did.

No one in the inn was willing to give up their comfort so that someone imperiled by circumstances could be rescued.

But then there was Jesus.

About to emerge from Mary’s womb was Immanuel.

God, The Father, saw mankind imperiled by sin. And He sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, to save us. Jesus left the comfort of Heaven, relinquished His glory and took on flesh, bore our sin and shame on the cross, all to make room for us in Heaven.

Understand, before Jesus came, there was no room for us in Heaven: sin disqualified us from entering. But Jesus had compassion on us and He was willing to show us mercy: He was willing to do whatever was needed to rescue us from condemnation.

If you are willing, in faith, to knock on the doors of Heaven, you will find there is room, lots of room, all because of Jesus.

‘Twas a sheep not a lamb

‘Twas a sheep not a lamb that strayed away
In the parable Jesus told,
A grown-up sheep that strayed away
From the ninety and nine in the fold.

And why for the sheep should we seek
And earnestly hope and pray?
Because there is danger when sheep go wrong;
They lead the lambs astray.

Lambs will follow the sheep, you know,
Wherever the sheep may stray.
When sheep go wrong, it won’t take long
‘Til the lambs are as wrong as they.

And so with the sheep we earnestly plead
For the sake of the lambs today,
For when sheep are lost, what a terrible cost
The lambs will have to pay!

― C.C. Miller

From a List of Laws to the Love of The Lord

“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient:
all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:12

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient:
all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:23

Understanding what was sin was a major issue in the early church. The Mosaic Law had for hundreds of years defined sin for the Jewish people. However, Christians, born-again through the blood of Jesus Christ, were not under the Mosaic Law.

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” ~ Romans 6:14-15

And, although Jesus’ teachings were available, He had not given any “laws”. How then would Believers know what sin was? With no law, how can sin be defined?

In reality, this issue had already been addressed and resolved in both the Old (e.g., Micah 6:6-8) and the New Testaments (e.g., Matthew 22:35-40). However, our texts (the verses above) are particularly useful in illustrating the change from the old paradigm of the Law to the new paradigm of Grace.

All things are not expedient

As we can see in the verses above, in the epistle to the Corinthians, sin is defined sin as doing whatever is “not expedient”.  Instead of a list of do-nots as in the Mosaic law, we are instructed to focus on a single concept: expedience.

According to Merriam-Webster, something is expedient if it is suitable for achieving a particular end in a given circumstance.

Our focus, then, is to be on doing what is most suitable to achieving God’s goals in every circumstance, anything else is sin.

God has a plan and purpose for us in every moment and at every step of our lives. Our job is to make choices that “expedite”, that facilitate, God’s plans/purposes. Any choice that frustrates/hinders God’s plans/purposes is sin.

Consequently, sin cannot be pinned down to any list of do’s and don’ts.  The emphasis has been shifted from a list of laws to the love of The Lord.  In each situation that faces us, we ask not what’s on a list, but what best demonstrates the love of God.

This means that we must constantly be concerned with God’s Will in any and every circumstance. And it reveals the central importance of our one-on-one relationship with God.

As we walk in right relationship with God, we apply His Truth, His Word, to every situation to determine what is expedient: to determine what God wants to accomplish in us and through us.

Living under grace, instead of under The Law, is dynamic and personal rather than static and general.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” ~ Micah 6:8

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. ~ Jeremiah 9:24

Because the emphasis is on the relationship between Believer and God (The Lawgiver!) instead of on the law, our relationship is then fundamental to making the right decisions. We focus on God and depend on Him to get us to the right result/choice/outcome.

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:6

Consider the Pharisees of Jesus’ day: Despite their knowledge of (the letter of) The Law, they were unable to ‘see’ the Lawgiver when He came to them in flesh. They were unable to understand His ministry and His death and Resurrection. They knew The Law, but knew not the Lawgiver. They had knowledge without relationship; but in God’s Kingdom, there is no knowledge without relationship.

Not under the power of any thing

According to our text, 1 Corinthians 6:12, sin tries to enslave us: to bring us under its power. Therefore, we can determine whether an action is wrong or right, whether it hinders God’s will or expedites God’s will, by examining if it will rule over us. Apart from God, whatever/whoever controls our behavior is sinful. The possibilities are many but include addictions, relationships, and even our egos. We should eliminate or subdue everything in our lives that would challenge God’s authority.

All things edify not

choose-the-right-directionAnother sign of sin is whether it edifies or destroys. Things of God always build us up, making us stronger spiritually so that we can better do the will of God. Conversely, anything that damages us spiritually also hinders our ability to do God’s will. Believers must always consider carefully what they consume. Psalm 1:1 tells us not to consume the counsel of the ungodly, the lifestyle of sinners or the company of scoffers (those who mock God). It is hard to walk with God if the things we are involved in undermine our relationship with Him. Our spiritual growth is often stunted by the weeds that we allow into our lives.

Closing thoughts

Both righteousness and sinfulness are results of our posture to God, our attitude to the Almighty. The depth of our desire to serve God determines whether we walk in righteousness or stumble in sinfulness. If we are constantly seeking to do God’s will, to expedite His plans, we will walk righteously.  But if we are busy living for ourselves, executing our own plans, we will be mired in sin.

It is easy to impress others with our piety by performing a list of laws: going to church frequently, giving regularly, and so on. However, God demands much more than that. He requires that His children are always going about their Father’s business.

What to Do While Waiting for God

Waiting for God to respond to our urgent petitions is often a challenging experience for Believers. We pray to Him and hope for a quick, even an instant answer. But most Believers quickly come to realize that things rarely happen as quickly as we would like. Therefore, we must wait.

Whether it is for rescue, for guidance, to resolve a difficult situation or to make clear His answer to a prayer, very often we must wait on God’s timing rather than our own.  As we will explore below, Psalm 13 captures for us the emotional and spiritual strain that Believers often experience while waiting on God and gives us insight on how to cope.

The Problem

“How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?”
~ Psalm 13:1-2

The first two verses of Psalm 13 state the problems David faced while he waited for God’s response. Let us examine them carefully.

1. How Long? | Does God care?

“How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?”. It appears David was waiting for God to resolve a problem for what he thought was a long time. So, he wondered if God even cared; maybe God had forgotten about him.

This can be the most painful part of waiting. And it is perhaps the part that requires the most faith: trusting that God cares when there are no outward signs that He does. It is much easier to wait when we have tangible evidence that God cares: that He hasn’t forgotten about us.

When their boat was caught in a storm, the Disciples asked Jesus:

And [Jesus] was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him, and say unto him, “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” ~ Mark 4:38

They had been bailing water out of the boat and fighting the winds and waves, but, despite their efforts, the boat seemed on the verge of sinking. Yet through it all, Jesus was asleep. Didn’t He care? How could He sleep when they were about to perish? Why didn’t He come quickly to their aid?

It turned out that Jesus did care. And He had everything under control. The only issue was His disciples’ faith.

And [Jesus] said unto them, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” ~ Mark 4:40

But the episode demonstrates how waiting for God to act can challenge our faith, and often leads to doubting God’s care for us.

2. How Long? | Did God hear my prayer?

“How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” In Scripture, sin is the reason that God “hides His face”; e.g., consider:

“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.” ~ Isaiah 59:2

praying-1-black and whiteHowever, there are no suggestions of David being in need of repentance in Psalm 13. Therefore, it seems safe to deduce that God had not actually distanced Himself from David, rather, that was just how David felt.

When waiting for God to intervene in our crises, it is easy for us to feel that He is far away. It can seem that there is a loss of intimacy. Our minds tell us that surely there must be something wrong in our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. Because, if He knew what we were going through, He would definitely have answered. We ask our selves: Did we do something wrong? Where is that closeness with Him that we sometimes experienced?

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.” ~ Psalm 22:1-2

We need emotional contact. Rationale often isn’t enough. Even though we know God’s Word and the promises in it, sometimes we also need a “hug”, closeness, communion, to reassure us that everything is alright.

When we feel God is with us it becomes much easier to face the storms of life.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4

3. How Long? | Trapped in turmoil

“How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?” In the second verse, David described the inner turmoil and anguish that he endured while waiting for God. Like Jesus’ disciples in the storm, he felt he was about to perish and he felt all alone. It was the waiting, the uncertainty he felt, that was crushing him emotionally and spiritually.depression-1

Still, there’s no answer.

Waiting tests our faith greatly:

  • Moses waited so long (40 years in the desert) he stopped believing he was cut out for the job of leading the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 3:11).
  • Abraham waited so long (~ 25 years) for a son by his wife, Sarah, he asked God for proof (Genesis 15:8) and requested that God change His plans (Genesis 17:17-19).
  • After waiting for probably months in Herod’s dungeon, John the Baptist began to doubt whether Jesus was really the Messiah (Luke 7:20). John never made it out of the dungeon: he was beheaded (Mark 6:14-29).

Waiting is tough.

The Prayer

“Consider and hear me, O Lord my God:
lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him;
and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.”
~ Psalm 13:3-4

The petition was straightforward: David asked God to resolve his issues now because he was overwhelmed by his troubles: He felt that he was on the verge of death. And that he was about to buckle under the pressure.

Interestingly, David was not worried by God’s ultimate decision: he was confident God answers would be perfect: David had faith in God’s ultimate goodness, but he had doubts in his own ability to wait on God’s timing.

The Prescription

“But I have trusted in Thy mercy;
my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation.
I will sing unto the Lord, because He hath dealt bountifully with me.”
~ Psalm 13:5-6

umbrellaIn the closing verses of the Psalm, David realized that he must find a way to keep holding on until God would answer him: he must endure the wait. Accordingly, David gives us a prescription to cope with the challenge of waiting for God’s perfect timing.

David had expressed his feelings, now he would express his faith. He could not tell God how He should operate: God does not operate on our schedule and His timing is perfect. Indeed, God’s ways are beyond man’s comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Therefore, David focused on faith with a three-part prescription for waiting on God.  The psalm ends without David getting an answer, but David had found a way to persevere:

1. We have trusted in God’s mercy:

Fundamental to the relationship between the Believer and God is mercy. Having put our trust in Christ Jesus for salvation, our relationship with God is built upon the knowledge that God will not give us the condemnation we deserve for our sins. Instead, God will spare us because of the atoning blood of Christ Jesus that was shed for our redemption.

Therefore, having trusted in God’s mercy, we have nothing to fear.

“The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” ~ Psalms 147:11

Putting our trust in God’s mercy enables us to, spiritually, be exactly where God wants us. And makes it possible for us to wait patiently on Him, because we know, ultimately, that God will rule in our favor. Indeed, even if we make mistakes, even if we are in the wrong, God desires to is to help us back on the right path. God is working everything out to bless us because He is merciful.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

Yes, even waiting works to our benefit.

2. Find joy in salvation

If we are saved, what more should we want? God has already given us the greatest gift. If we have Jesus, we already have everything. In other words, whatever it is we are waiting for is already less than what we have received through salvation. John the Baptist never made it out of Herod’s dungeon alive, but he was saved. His wait on earth ended with a trip to heaven.4573

But that is the problem.

Typically, we want more than salvation offers, because we seek or joy elsewhere, in lesser things. For example, we seek our joy in comfort, so waiting in discomfort is excruciatingly painful. Or we seek joy in health, so we find living with sickness (waiting for healing) unbearable.

To wait for God’s timing requires that we find joy, not in the alleviation of our crisis, but in the fact that with or without the crisis we have salvation: God’s greatest gift. The prophet Habakkuk puts it this way:

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” ~ Habakkuk 3:17-18

Even if everything falls apart while waiting on God, Believers can still find joy, if they, like David eventually did, look for it in God’s salvation.

3. Praise the Lord for His blessings

Often our problems make us myopic: they distort our outlook. We see our problems loom so large that they block out our view of everything else. An ever-present challenge while waiting on God to rescue us from our crises is to see God at work in other areas of our lives. David, eventually, realized this and made a commitment to remember how bountifully God had blessed and continued to bless him.

If God had blessed us before, will He not bless us again?

But we struggle to see God’s bountiful blessing because our definition of blessings is sometimes quite different from God’s definition. Jesus considered persecution, for righteousness sake, to be a blessing. God considers suffering for Christ to be a privilege. Do we?

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” ~ Matthew 5:10-11

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” ~ Philippians 1:29

We often fail to realize that the crises/trials we go through are themselves blessings from God. Likewise, waiting on God to see us through the crises is a blessing because it grows our faith.

As long as we are waiting for God we are not trusting in our own solutions: Waiting on God is a confession both of our inability and of God’s infinite sufficiency.

“The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” ~ Lamentations 3:25-26

Seven Reasons for Salvation

“For He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
“For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.
“And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.
“He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
“He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
“He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.
“He hath [helped] His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.”
(Luke 1:48-55)

After, declaring her submission and joy in The LORD (Luke 1:46-47), Mary explains seven reasons why she looked to God for her salvation. The seven reasons undergirding Mary’s Salvation must be foundational for all Believers as well.

1. God has the sole solution to our sin problem

“For He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” ~ Luke 1:48

The first reason to look to God for salvation is that He alone has the solution to our sin problem.

Mary considered that God looked with concern at her “low estate”, her “tapeínōsis”. From both Strong’s and Thayer’s concordances, the Hebrew word “tapeínōsis” means vileness, spiritual abasement, spiritual humiliation. In other words, Mary admitted that her sinfulness was exposed before God. And it was awful, shameful and disgusting. But God did more than just look at her sinfulness, He saved Mary. Mary, went from “low estate” to “blessed, from “filthy sinner” to the mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. God cleansed her from sin and imputed His righteousness to her so that she could be the one to bear His son. And, for that reason, all generations, all peoples, all nations would call her blessed.

A parallel of Mary’s experience is recorded in Zechariah 3. In Zechariah’s vision, the High Priest, Joshua came before into The LORD’s presence to receive a message for Israel. But, before Joshua could receive God’s message, his sin, metaphorically represented by his filthy clothes, had to be removed. God removed Joshua’s sin and clothed Joshua in righteousness: spotless white raiment that God Himself provided.

Like Mary, we too must come to recognize our abject and awful sinfulness, our filthiness in the God’s holy presence. Like Mary, we too must see that God has the solution, the only solution, to our sin problem: Jesus Christ, His son. And if we put our trust, our faith, in Christ for our salvation, God will remove our sins; He will clothe us with His righteousness; and make us, like Mary, bearers of His Son (Ephesians 3:16-19, John 14:23, John17:23, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Colossians 1:27).

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” ~ Galatians 2:20

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God;
for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness…” ~ Isaiah 61:10a

2. God is good

“For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.” ~ Luke 1:49

The second reason to look to God for salvation is that God has been good to us. Even while sin made us repugnant to God because of His holiness, God still reached into our lives to bless us, to do great things to us.

Central to salvation is the belief that God is good.

Who can trust salvation from a “bad” God? Who wants to be saved by an “unkind” or “unfair God”? How will one have faith in God if God is not good?

“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” ~ Hebrews 11:6

That is why those that oppose God always begin with questioning/challenging His goodness: “How can a good God allow _________?” Or “If God is good He wouldn’t allow _______!”

However, the problem with that approach is that God’s goodness does not depend on our ability to see/perceive it. He requires us to trust Him.

Infants cannot understand many of the good things their parents do for them. When my son was a few weeks old, he would cry relentlessly whenever he was bathed. He did not understand the importance of cleanliness. And when he was a few months old he would cry relentlessly when we took him out of his bath. He did not understand that baths should not last forever.

But my son’s lack of understanding did not mean his parents’ actions were unkind or unfair.

Mary’s circumstances give us even more insight. Mary was a poor girl from a town (Nazareth) with a bad reputation (John 1:46). Mary’s pending marriage was in jeopardy because of her pregnancy (Matthew 1:19). And if people found out she was pregnant before marriage, they would slander her. Her pregnancy would be a disgrace to her family.

Mary, by human standards, had little going for her, and that little was about to lessen. Yet Mary avers that God has been good to her: “He that is mighty hath done to me great things”.

How is that possible?

Mary could proclaim God’s goodness because she trusted in Him, not in her own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). She examined her life through eyes of faith and saw God’s blessings. She saw how God had provided for her; how He had taught her His Word, how He had guided her steps. She felt the good hand of God upon her life (Nehemiah 2:8, 18). For understanding, Mary looked to God rather than her circumstances.

We can only see God’s goodness if we trust in Him: if we, in faith, look at life through His eyes, from His perspective.

When we see by faith that God is good, we will accept His salvation.

But there is more…

Mary never forgot that she did not deserve God’s goodness: “…holy is His name”. God’s holiness precludes us from His presence. Yet, because of His love, God reaches into our lives to bless us.

For this reason, God’s offer of salvation is not to be treated lightly. Jesus Christ gave up His glory (Philippians 2:7) to come to earth and He gave up His life on a cross, all to save us from our sin.

3. God is merciful

“And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.” ~ Luke 1:50

The third reason for salvation, given in Mary’s song, is God’s mercy: Without God’s mercy, we have no hope of avoiding judgment for our sins.

Mercy is often informally defined as “not getting the punishment that one deserves”. But, while that definition is useful, it does not fully capture the meaning of God’s mercy. God is neither a weak, nor an unfair judge not properly dispensing justice. Rather, God remembers our weakness: our complete inability, in our own power, to do what is right.

Anyone anywhere who by faith, confesses their inability AND cries out for God’s ability (His power to enable us to do right), will receive God’s mercy. And God shows His mercy not by withholding judgment, but by paying the price for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the propitiation for our sin.

However, those who claim to be able to pay the price themselves, those who do not fear God, do not have any access to His mercy.

Mary was aware that she needed God’s mercy, that she could not escape judgment for her sin, that she needed the Saviour. Mary feared God. And so should we.

We will not look to God for salvation until we realize our need for His mercy. Until we confess that we have no inherent ability to be righteous, we will not call on God. Instead, we will declare ourselves good enough to get into heaven. God’s Word, however, tells us otherwise:

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” ~ Isaiah 64:6

4. God’s offer of salvation will not always be available

“He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” ~ Luke 1:51

Mary’s song reveals a fourth reason for accepting God’s offer of salvation: the window of opportunity will not stay open forever. There comes a time when God removes His light.

God reveals Himself to us: He makes us aware that He is real and His authority and power are real: “He hath shewed strength with His arm…”. In Romans 1:19-20 and John 1:9, we learn that God makes Himself known to everyone.

However, some choose to ignore God’s revelation because they prefer to live their own way: they prefer to live in the darkness of sin, Romans 1:18, 21-23, John 3:19-21.

Accepting their choice, God removes His light and allows them to become what their hearts desire, Romans 1:24, 28, Psalm 81:11-12, Ephesians 4:17-19, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”

The Hebrew word used for “scatter” in our text is “ diaskorpízō ”. And it means “to winnow”, i.e., to separate the chaff (the proud) from the wheat (those that fear God, the humble).

Also important in understanding God’s message is the tense of the verb. In this verse, the past perfect tense is used to convey that the action has been completed.

Put together, the idea is that Mary has already seen God’s judgment of the proud, which is to separate them from the wheat and set them aside for burning (Matthew 3:12).

Just like Mary, we can see around us those that reject God and the terrible results of lives lived in the darkness of sin.

To be clear, we do not decide who no longer has access to God’s mercy: that is God’s job, not ours. It is sufficient for us to observe the degeneration caused by sin and thereby to be aware of God’s judgment and our need to accept His light NOW, before it’s too late.

Why would we believe that Almighty God allows us to respond to Him when we want? Do we presume to set God’s schedule?

If we do not know the urgency of our plight, that God will not always strive with man (Genesis 6:3), we will not look to God for salvation. If we believe we can come to God whenever we decide, we will ignore His offer of salvation.

“…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:2b

5. God’s alone is King

“He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.” ~ Luke 1:52

In this verse, Mary proclaims the fifth reason for salvation: God is the sole authority in the universe.

The lyrics from a famous Bob Dylan song say,

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Since God is the sole and ultimate authority, serving anything or anyone else is a waste of time and effort: a fool’s errand. The first sin was a result of man wanting to be his own authority (Genesis 3:1-6). The temptation was as follows

“…in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” ~ Genesis 3:5b

That desire for independence from God, for self-determination, has never left the hearts of men and women. We do not want to submit to God’s authority over us. But Mary’s statement shows us that our insubordination is futile: God is in control. Even in our imagined mightiness, God will pull us down from our self-made thrones. Conversely, when we are humble, when we yield to His authority, God will lift us up.

Looking to God for salvation requires that we acknowledge Him as the ultimate authority over our lives. In everything we do in life, we must be about serving Him. The one who seeks to serve himself will never come to God.

6. God’s supplies all our needs

“He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.” ~ Luke 1:53

The sixth reason for salvation given in Mary’s song is acknowledging that every good thing comes from God.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father…” ~ James 1:17a

In other words, if you are looking for good in life you must come to God, because that’s where ALL good things come from. There is no way to get good things aside from coming to God. This is more than just saying God is good, it is saying God alone is good: there is no good without God.

This concept is fairly straightforward, but we run into problems with the definition of “good” things. Our tendency is to use our human nature to define what good is. By this approach, good things are those things that appeal to our bodies, our way of thinking, and/or our pride (1 John 2:16, James 4:3).

However, not only do ALL good come from God alone, God also defines what is good (Luke 11:13). And God is not concerned with feeding our lusts. God wants to bless us with things that primarily benefit our spirit, not our flesh. Our spirits are eternal but our flesh is temporal.

Indeed, focusing on fleshly desires causes our spirits to wither (Psalm 106:13-15, Numbers 11).

God feeds those hungry for righteousness with good things, things that will feed their spiritual growth. But those who are rich, those who are self-sufficient in bodily desires, in philosophies of life, or in self-importance, they receive nothing good from God.

If we reckon that we can get good things outside of God we will never accept His salvation. Instead, we will consider other paths more agreeable to our mindset. Likewise, we will never accept God’s salvation if we are seeking things to feed our lusts, because God is not concerned with assuaging our flesh-focused desires.

To accept God’s salvation we must believe, as Mary did, that all that is truly good comes from God alone.

7. God’s is faithful, we can trust His promises

“He hath [helped] His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.” ~ Luke 1:54-55

Mary’s seventh reason for salvation is God’s faithfulness. She recalled the promises that God had made to Abraham, the Father of the Hebrew nation, a few thousand years earlier. And God had remained true to His promises: God was faithful: God’s Word was true.

Moreover, God’s faithfulness was not because of man’s goodness. Indeed, over the years, the Hebrews had broken all their promises to God and had failed in all their obligations. God was faithful because of His mercy, because He remembered that man is “dust” (Psalm 103:14). God was faithful because He was willing to pay the price to redeem the Hebrews and all of mankind for their unfaithfulness.

God’s faithfulness means we can trust Him, it means that we can find rest in Him, we never have to worry that His character will change, or that His plans will change.

Belief in God’s faithfulness is crucial for accepting His salvation. If God is not faithful, could we believe that we are truly saved?

Our difficulty in trusting in God’s faithfulness often arise from insufficient patience. It is instructive that Mary examined God’s promises over the course of thousands of years. It was only then that she could see His faithfulness clearly.

Abraham died long before all of God’s promises to him were fulfilled. But though Abraham’s death meant he never lived to see God fulfill His promises, it didn’t mean God wouldn’t keep them. Likewise, we sometimes have to wait for a long time to see God’s promises fulfilled.

“The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” ~ Lamentations 3:25-26

Moses had to wait eighty years, forty of which were in the desert tending sheep. But God kept His promise.

Joseph has to wait more than ten years, mostly in an Egyptian prison. But God kept His promise.

It is our impatience, our unwillingness to wait, that causes us to doubt God’s faithfulness.

But, if we, by faith and by testimony in His Word, believe that God is faithful, then we can also trust in Him for our salvation. Mary believed God was faithful, therefore, she trusted God as her Saviour.

“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations” ~ Deuteronomy 7:9

Closing Remarks

At this time, the Church is beset by easy “believism”: whereby we confess faith in a God of our own making. Some believe in a God that does not judge sin. Others believe God exists to give them whatever their lust desires. Still, others believe Jehovah is just one God of many.

Real salvation is available only from the real God of the Bible, not of our imaginations and idiosyncrasies. We come to Jehovah on His terms, not on ours. He is the God that He reveals Himself to be, not the one we wish for.

True salvation requires that we believe what God says about Himself in His Word. Therefore, it behooves us all to examine ourselves to discover what it is that we truly believe.

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.
Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” ~ 2 Corinthians 13:5

 

Rejoicing in The Saviour Readies us for His Service

“… my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” ~ Luke 1:47

In the opening line of her song of praise to Jehovah, Mary testified of her salvation: “My soul doth magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46). It was God that was most important in her life, not herself, and not anyone or anything else.

In our text, which is the second line of her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55), Mary testifies of her (ongoing) sanctification.

The key word in Luke 1:47 is the word “rejoice”. To rejoice means to be very happy; to rejoice in the Lord means to be very happy in the Lord or to find happiness/joy in the Lord.

What/Who do you find your happiness in?

So-called Carnal Christians find happiness in the things of the flesh: the pleasures of the world. They recognize and acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but find little happiness in Him. For them, the “grass is greener” on the world’s side of the fence. They might have come through the strait gate and set a foot on the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14), but they delightfully inhale every aroma from the broad road that wafts by.

Each person has both a body and a spirit. When Adam sinned, his spirit died (Genesis 3). And all Adam’s offspring to come, all of mankind, are born with dead spirits that can only be enlivened by salvation (Ephesians 2:1-5). Therefore, the unsaved can only find joy in their bodies, through (physical and mental) interactions with the world.

However, the saved have both bodies and reborn (quickened) spirits.   And each saved person must decide in which they will find their happiness. Will the saved continue to seek joy in the world through their bodies? Or will they find their joy in God through their reborn spirits?

God’s Word defines sanctification as being made holy. Sanctification is the process of being made more ready to serve God in more ways.

“…in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:20-21

The Christian that finds joy only in their flesh will not be able to endure sanctification; because they find neither pleasure nor value in spiritual development. Indeed, things of the spirit are only hindrances to the happiness they seek.

Mary was not carnally minded. Not only was she saved, she sought and found her joy in the LORD. Mary is an example of who we must become so that God can work through us.

From a secular viewpoint, as a poor, uneducated young woman from a “bad neighborhood” (i.e., Nazareth), Mary didn’t have much going for her. The best she could realistically aspire to was to get married to a good man.

Being called by God to be the mother of Christ Jesus, meant that even that modest dream was in jeopardy.

How could she explain her pregnancy to Joseph? How could he believe her? And, even if he did believe her, why would he still want to continue with the marriage. Her embarrassment would become his if he did. Indeed, no man would want her now. And she would bring lifelong disgrace on her family.

Every worldly hope of happiness would be lost.

But though her circumstances were surely a concern, Mary was neither distressed nor despondent. Because she did not find her joy in the approval of people. She did not find joy in the elevation of her social status. She did not even find joy in her betrothed, Joseph. Yes, she loved him dearly; but Joseph was not the source of her joy: Jehovah was. Mary’s joy was in the Lord.

If we are to serve God, we must undergo the process of sanctification. But we will never have the courage to become holy until and unless our happiness is found in The LORD. And, without God’s sanctifying work in us, we will never be able or available to serve Him.

Mary rejoiced in The Lord her Saviour, therefore God could commission her to give birth to His Son.

Where do you find your joy? And what can God do with your life?

“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” ~ Philippians 4:4

Magnifying The Lord Means Minimizing Myself

And Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord” ~ Luke 1:46

The focus of this verse is the word “magnify” which means to enlarge: to make big. However, the creator of the universe, our Lord, is already big and powerful. The emphasis, then, is not on “the Lord”; the emphasis is on “my soul”: me.

It is easy to make other things in our lives more important than God. We often care more about what people think than what God thinks. We spend more time thinking about money than about God. We curate our social media profiles more carefully than our spiritual accounts. We play games more often than we read God’s Word or pray. Effectively, rather than magnifying God, often we minimize Him.

To magnify God means that we choose to make God an ever bigger part of our lives. Indeed, our Lord must become so big, so important, that He fills our focus and we only see Him: every aspect of life is seen through Him. The Lord must become everything to me.

This is the only way: this is the definition of salvation. If God is anything to us, God must become everything to us. There is no halfway. Anything in our lives that competes with God is an idol.

As the Scripture says,

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” ~ 1 John 2:15

In other words, loving God and loving anything not-of-God are mutually exclusive: we can only do one or the other; we cannot do both.  If we belong to God, we will magnify Him over everything else. And if we belong to the world, we will magnify the world over everything else.

Therefore, the one central question in life may be stated as: “Who or what does your/my soul magnify?”

And, likewise, the metric for spiritual growth is the answer to the question: “Who or what is becoming more important in your/my life?”

All of life rests on our souls’ response to God. Are we minimizing Him? Or are we magnifying Him?

Mary made her choice. And it was the right one.

“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” ~ Psalm 34:3

The Blessing of Believing

“…Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
“And blessed is she that believed…” (Luke 1:42b & 1:45a)

Mary was blessed because of what God did for her (chose her to be the mother of our Lord Jesus) AND because of her faith response to Him (she believed). Both go hand in hand.

We all love to have God’s blessings, but if they don’t develop faith in us, what is the point?

God’s blessings in our lives are meant to prompt and to grow our faith. Unbelievers see God’s blessings in their lives and are challenged to put their faith in Him for salvation. And Believers experiencing God’s blessings are challenged to trust Him even more.

For example, when Jesus blessed Zacchaeus by choosing to stay at his house, Zacchaeus responded by trusting in Jesus for salvation AND by returning, in faith, up to four times the money he had stolen from people when collecting taxes (Luke 19:1-10).

On the other hand, when Jesus blessed the man by the pool of Bethesda, he responded by helping the religious authorities accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath laws (John 5:1-18).

What benefit is it to us if God blesses us, but we do not believe?

Indeed, blessings without belief bring judgment on those who were blessed.  In Matthew 11:21-24, Jesus pronounced judgment on the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because, despite being blessed by the many miracles Jesus performed during His ministry, they never turned to God. God’s blessings did not result in their belief and so they were condemned.

“…choose you this day whom ye will serve…” ~ Joshua 24:15b

Likewise, the Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years because their unbelief prevented them from entering the Promised Land:

“So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” ~ Hebrews 3:19

Despite experiencing the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna, and many other miraculous blessings, they would not trust God and so they were doomed to the desert. Only their children would survive to enter into the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14).

Earlier in Luke chapter 1, when Zechariah heard the angel announce that he would be blessed with a son, he doubted and was struck with muteness. But when Mary heard the angel announce that she would become Jesus’ mother, she believed and was blessed even more as a result.

Let us endeavor to be like Mary. Let us respond to the blessings of God in our lives by trusting Him more.

There is great blessing in simply trusting that God’s Word is true: It means we don’t have to strive, we don’t have to pilot the ship. We, with our limited knowledge and understanding, can rest in God: knowing that He will guide us through the storms and bring us safely to harbor, safely to rest.