Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 1 August 2019

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. Titus 2:11 (EHV).

Consider why this verse says what it does, where it does.   We’ve already read verses 1-10 of Titus 2.   You’ll remember that they talked about sound doctrine and sound, upright behaviors of those who teach that doctrine; that they talked about encouraging people, especially believers, to exhibit these upright behaviors so that God may be glorified.

Why?   Because His grace has appeared and it brings saving to everyone.   EVERYONE.

Jews?   Saved.   Muslims?   Saved.   Liberal Democrats?   Saved.  Buddhists?   Saved.   Conservative Republicans?   Saved.  Donald Trump and Barack Obama?   Saved.  You?   Saved.   Everyone.

God gave His undeserved gift of salvation to everyone who would accept it.   Not accepting it doesn’t negate that He gave it.   Rejecting it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  It’s available even to those who reject it and Him.   All they have to do is submit, to believe.

The most amazing words in this verse are “appeared” and “bringing.”   They denote God having taken it upon Himself to come to us in an amazing way.   He wasn’t just born:   He appeared.   He came on the scene, fulfilling hundreds of prophecies and ancient predictions.  The mathematical odds of it happening are staggeringly impossible, but He did it; 10^157 or 1 in 10 with 157 zeros behind it (see https://www.empower.global/the-mathematical-probability-that-jesus-is-the-christ/).   God found a way to come to us as His Son, Jesus, in a way that would make Him the central figure in all of human history but without being a tyrant.   He who could be all the CGI spectacle that Hollywood could ever imagine appeared as a humble servant boy who grew into a humble servant teacher.

And when He appeared, He brought salvation with Him.   He saw in us a terminal fault.  We were sin-soaked.   We couldn’t save ourselves on our own.   A thousand years of instructions to the Jewish people on how much they needed God couldn’t save them from their own sins.   Billions of people lived before Jesus and billions have lived since and not one of them could save themselves from the desolation of living without His hope.   But He could.   He could do what was necessary to make it possible for people to live in peace with Him forever.   He alone could vanquish death; He alone could redefine life.

Jesus didn’t have to do it but he appeared to bring salvation.   He who powerfully but plainly spoke everything into existence didn’t have to appear and bring salvation, but He did it anyway.  Out of love.  Because of love.   Because of His perfection and His merciful nature, He chose to give us a gift that could never be deserved, never earned, never repaid.   He didn’t ask for repayment.   He only asked for our love.  When you consider that this verse came on the heels of others about behavior and submission, perhaps that’s the most grace-filled miracle of all.

For further reading:  Romans 3:24, 2 Timothy 1:10, Titus 2:12.

Savior from eternity, thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 18 July 2019

One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”   This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.  Titus 1:12-14 (NIV).

Paul’s words seem harsh here, resorting to gossip and common canards.   Yet before you or I go judge Paul, let’s go back to that history.   And context.   Both are necessary to avoid the too-contemporary mistake of painting Paul with a broad brush.

First, consider Paul’s task in Titus 1.   He was protecting the church by refuting false doctrine.   Paul wrote the letter to encourage Titus on what to teach the young church.   Part of that includes identifying what was wrong about what was being said at the time.   The purpose wasn’t to hammer those misleading the church:   the purpose was to steer even them back to the road of the straight and narrow.

He was also using irony, namely the irony of a popular aphorism from the area where Titus was ministering.   Per John Gill’s commentary, this is attributed to Epimenides (a poet) and Ovid (also a poet), both of Crete, who associated the ancients of Crete with falsehoods.   It was they, not Paul, who associated Crete with dishonesty.

Last, Paul was being honest.   He was being honest by talking frankly about the dishonesty of those who would mislead the church by demanding they do things according to Jewish traditions (like circumcision).  Many of the converts into the new Christian following were former Jews.   Christianity itself was seen as an offshoot sect of Judaism, and the roots of the Christian faith are wholly Jewish.  It’s understandable that some people would think that the traditional Jewish laws governing circumcision, sacrifices, festivals, and daily life would, then, apply to Christians.

It’s also false.   Those who would preach that from within the workings of the church must be silenced.   Their falsehoods must not be allowed to take root or believers could be swayed away from following Jesus.   It isn’t that Jesus wasn’t strong enough to overcome that.   It’s that people weren’t.   As we talked about yesterday, that same push happens today.   The Catholic concept of paying a penance has its roots in the false idea of doing something to earn God’s grace.   The idea that churches must adhere strictly to a man-made church calendar is another manifestation of it.

If tradition glorifies God and helps people believe in Him, it can be a good thing.   Yet the second it becomes about adhering to the tradition and not giving that glory, then the tradition is bankrupt.  It was true in Paul’s day; harsh or not, it’s true now.

For further reading:  Acts 2:11, Acts 17:28, Colossians 2:22, 1 Timothy 5:20, Titus 1:15

Lord Jesus, forgive those who misconstrue Your holy words.   And help me today to only truthfully teach them to others through what I say and do.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 6 June 2019

They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:4 (NIV).

Another thought about this verse:  belief is a choice.

You and I don’t have to believe what we do:   we choose to.   Yes, we’re compelled by faith from within.   We can’t begin to believe in Christ unless He first (through His Spirit) plants the thought in our receiving heart.   We can’t follow a political leader or ideology without watching it, learning about it, experiencing it.   And as much as I believe some people quickly fall in love, we don’t do that, either, without first being moved about the other person.

We choose those things.   Faith, following, love:   they’re choices. Just like turning away from the truth.   That, too, is a choice.

Nobody forced the Canaanites to follow their pagan gods or demonic, detestable practices.   They chose.   The Jews of Jesus’ day weren’t forced to conspire against Him:   they chose to.   Germans of the 1930s weren’t forced to follow Nazism (at least not at first):   they chose to follow evil.   Parishoners at Jonestown, followers of Elijah Mohammed, members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Manson family:   they weren’t forced to do the things they did.   They chose.

So it is with those who turn away from God’s truth and turn aside to myths.   To be honest, it’s another person’s American right to follow Zoroastrian mysticism, follow the Maharishi Yogi, or run around naked in the forest to celebrate Mother Gaia.   It’s their right to turn aside to myths.   In America, our Bill of Rights preserves our right to believe or not believe what we want.   In other words, what we choose.

So it is with God as well.  Even God respects that right.   God doesn’t force us to believe in Him.   He asks us to.  He asks us to, then teaches us through His word and our experiences why His teaching is the true way.  His word, the constant miracles of nature and our world, the tangible results of faith in the lives of those who believe, our own experiences, love:   all of these scream proof that Jesus is who He said He is.  It’s up to us to believe or not believe, to choose what we will take to heart about it.

Sure, NOT believing is easier said than done.   It isn’t easy to stop believing in something without a drastic event occurring.  Yet that, too, is a choice.  It was this way in ancient Judea; it is the same today.   In the days that make up the end times, it will only get worse.   Even obvious proof won’t sway the choices of those determined to not be swayed.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:4, 2 Timothy 4:4.

Lord, use me and what I say and do to witness You to those who choose unbelief.   Help me to not judge.   Help me to live out Your word better.   For them.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 October 2016

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Hebrews 2, verses 16-17.

There’s so much to unpack here.   Let’s start with an overview of it.

Paraphrasing Chad Bird again, much of the book of Hebrews is a history lesson.   It is written to former Jews who were new to the Christian faith.  Their entire history had been lived in obedience to God as He revealed Himself through the Torah (what we know as The Old Testament).  The author of Hebrews spends considerable time poetically tying the history of the Jews to the divinity and life of Jesus, drawing parallels and showing how the Old Testament was made complete in Jesus, who was revealed in the New Testament.

So consider this:  Abraham’s descendants are everyone and everywhere.  Abraham was the first Jew.   The word “Semitic” is derived from the name Shem, who was one of Noah’s son’s.  Indeed, Genesis 9 reveals how Noah sinned and it was Shem and his brother, Japheth, who helped Noah in his time of need.  If you read from Genesis 9 through 11, you find the account of mankind from Noah to Abram, who later became Abraham.  In those words, you see that Abraham was the first man since Shem who followed God and obeyed Him.  He became the first true Semite.  Because Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3:   “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”), even if you aren’t Jewish, you can count Abraham as, at least, your spiritual ancestor.

What’s more, Jesus was made like men and made like angels and made like Abraham’s descendants and even Abraham.   He didn’t live, die, and rise for the salvation of angels.   No, Jesus did those things to save men.   He did them because, while fully God, He became fully man to do for us what we couldn’t do ourselves.  Think about it:   You and I wouldn’t accept it if someone who wasn’t like us did something for us.   In the short run, perhaps.   But in the long run – and a human life here followed by eternity is the ultimate long run – we simply wouldn’t go for it.   Jesus had to be a man to save men.

And He did it to sacrifice blood.  Abraham’s first spiritual descendant was Issac, whom he willingly brought to sacrifice.  Men had begun to “call on the Name of the Lord” (meaning worship) God as early as the life of Adam and Eve, but Abraham is the first man recorded since Noah who offered a life to God as an act of worship.   He did it because Abraham understood that life was in blood, that God expected our deepest motivations to be focused on Him because He is all life.   We’re held captive by our fear of death and, thus, by our sins.   Only life could atone for those sins and release that fear.   Indeed, generations after Abraham, God instituted priestly sacrifice as a way to make atonement for sins.   Just last week, Jews around the world celebrated Yom Kippur, which is the day Jews celebrate the Day of Atonement.   In ancient times, this is the day when the Jewish priest would enter the temple, enter into the Most Holy Place, and sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant.   In this way, by God’s command, the priest could signify (for the people) God forgiving their sins.  Our first picture of that is of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son, Issac.

Finally, Abraham, then later Jesus, is the picture of the merciful high priest.   He is the one who, on behalf of all the people, can walk into God’s presence and make that atonement by blood.   He does this according to God’s own commands and the process He gave to us.   God gave us (through Moses) specific instructions on how and who to sanctify and what to do to make atonement for all the guilty sins of the people.   For over a thousand years Jews did this, first in the tabernacle in the deserts, then in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Later, when Jesus died, God nullified the need for further animal sacrifice because He alone had made the perfect sacrifice.   Jesus took on himself the role of high priest in ways no other human could.

We’ll talk more about these things in the days to come.

For more reading:   Genesis 9 – 12, Luke 3:8, Philippians 2:7, Hebrews 5:2, 3:1, 4:15, 5:5,10, 7:27, Romans 3:25.

Lord Jesus, You alone are all the wonderful things described in these verses.   Bless You and thank You for Your sacrifice, Your priesthood, and Your love as both man and God.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 24 March

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15, verses 33-38.

Extraordinary:   that’s the only word that can adequately describe these events.   These things happened all within such a short period of time – within the hour of Jesus’ death – that it’s simply extraordinary.

Notice how the hard-hearted stayed hard-hearted until the very end.   Apparently they weren’t moved by the raw emotion of watching an innocent man die.   Granted, the chief priests didn’t believe Jesus was innocent at all.   They wanted Him dead.   Yet it’s a gruesome, awful thing to watch someone, even someone you despise, being tortured and then crucified.   From these words (as well as corroborating & amplifying words from the other three gospels), it doesn’t seem to have phased them.

Notice that some acknowledged who Jesus was before He died, that He had the power to call for Elijah. There were some in the crowd who recognized the possibility that this Jesus may actually be divine, that He might just be who He said He was after all.   Were they mocking Jesus in saying what they did?   Perhaps, especially given the words about the sponge and “let Elijah get him down.” Yet don’t overlook the bare fact that, for the first time in this whole process, someone took a step back and said “hmmmm.”

Notice, too, that, at the same time Jesus died, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple was torn.   It signifies that there was no longer a veil separating God’s presence with God’s people.   They had seen Him face to face, and He had done all that was necessary for sinful people to stand in His holy presence without being destroyed by that holiness. The people there on Calvary didn’t know about what happened to the veil until after the fact, but it served as yet another physical proof that Jesus was indeed God Immanuel:   God With Us who they just had murdered.

Finally, notice the overwhelming, simple faith of the centurion.   He was a military officer; think Army colonel.   And he was a pagan, an unbeliever, a soldier doing his duty for the Roman Empire.   And he was the first believer after Jesus died. This non-Jew, this Gentile, this man outside of God’s promised holy nation, was the first man who looked up in regret at the job he had just performed and acknowledged, “this man was the Son of God.”   As he stood beside the cross, looking up at the bloody, wounded, dead body of Jesus of Nazareth, the centurion confessed what his heart and mind agreed.   He was the first convert after the crucifixion:   the first of billions.

It’s extraordinary.

Lord Jesus, I’m moved to tears by the story of Your death.   Thank You for dying for the sins I deserve to die for.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.