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By Faith Alone

Scripture Reading

Acts 15:1-35

Sermon

Recently we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It is good to remember history and learn from the mistakes, as well as rejoice in the good things that the Lord has done. But it is also good to remember what Solomon wrote:

10 Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For you do not inquire wisely concerning this. (Eccl. 7:10)

As for me, I confess that I get a little weary at the scholars pontificating about ancient disputes, wrangling over words and living in a world of books and dust and centuries past, while the rest of us live in a world of real hurt and real pain and real sins.

But as I look at the time of the reformation and compare it to our time, I also see a lot of similarities, and our need to recover the gospel is as great as it ever was.

Today, as in the sixteenth century, theology has become the area of the experts, who look in contempt at laymen trying to get involved. Those who have not gone to the right seminaries and read the right books are dismissed and told that they have no right to question people far more educated than they are.

In the sixteenth century, the common people didn’t know how to read and didn’t have Bibles in their homes. Today, we know how to read and have Bibles readily available, but the common people generally don’t crack one open. If they do regular reading, they are at a loss as to how to read and interpret the scripture. The experts have trained them to be dependent upon the teat of the learned. And the people have learned their lessons well. They figure that the experts will tell them what they need to know.

In the sixteenth century, there was an infallible pope, who got rich on the backs of the ignorant. The flimflammery of Tetzel and the selling of indulgences is well-known by students of Reformation history. The medieval church peddled salvation in exchange for money, which prompted Martin Luther to pen his ninety-five theses and post them on the door of the church. Today, there are thousands of “infallible” popes, who are also peddling salvation in exchange for money. If you question one of the learned ones, you will soon pay the price through isolation, ridicule, name-calling, and banishment from the circle of the important ones. Money and power of strong incentives to keep the common people ignorant of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And, just like in the sixteenth century, The true gospel is Jesus Christ is shrouded by a miasma of qualifications, modifiers and conditions. The purity is lost. The beauty is shrouded with impenetrable language. The people of God are left as sheep without a shepherd, wondering if they are truly good enough to inherit the kingdom of God.

To strip away all of the Latin phrases, and the disputes of the wise of this world, the question is put simply – just like this: When God sees me, what does he see?

I tend to view myself as a good person, lovable, kind, generous. Does God see the same thing? I’ve done my best to obey. Sometimes I make mistakes, but will this change how God sees me? If God sees me as a sinner, can I change that? What should I do when I fall short?

Ultimately, it comes down to this. The day will come when I will die. I will meet God. What happens then? Will I be accepted by God? Will I be cast into hell forever? When I die, it will be too late to answer that question. So how can I be sure that I have the right answer BEFORE I die? Can I be sure?

This is the most important question you can ever ask. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this: How are you righteous before God?

To those who are outside of the covenant (what the first century would call a Gentile, a stranger to the covenant promises) the answer is “Just do the best you can and hope for the best.” And many different religions sprang up, trying to answer how to manipulate the gods to get a better afterlife. It is our natural religion. It is the religion of Cain, of Esau, and of Ishmael.

But to those who knew the covenant (the promise that was made to Abraham) they knew that there was a resurrection from the dead, and that the heirs of the promise to Abraham would inherit the new earth.

Today, we call this “heaven”, although it is a little misleading. We know that when the resurrection from the dead happens, all creation will be renewed, including this earth – and we will inherit it. But we also know that nothing unclean, wicked, sinful, will inherit.

So the question remains: When the time comes and we are laid in the dust, how do we know that we will inherit the promise made to Abraham? When the kingdom of God comes in its fulness, will we be a part of it?

How are we righteous before God?

The Jews (that is, the Pharisees at the time of Christ) answered this question with circumcision. Those who are circumcised inherit. Those who keep the law of Moses will inherit the kingdom of God.

At the time of Martin Luther, the Roman church answered: you can’t know for sure, but if you go to confession, do the penance, receive baptism, take mass, and submit to the pope, you can shave off years in purgatory and hope for the best.

But the Bible gives a far different answer. The answer is so contrary to everything that we believe about ourselves and about God that we cannot even see it unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.

How are you righteous before God?

60. How art thou righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart (Heidelberg Catechism).

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which will set you free from the bondage of sin and misery.

But the devil never lets go of his power easily. He is continually at work. The devil is always in the background saying in your ear, “yes, but….”

That is just too easy. You mean you don’t have to do anything? That means that you can just live how you want and it won’t even matter on the judgment day? That can’t be right? I know that you are saved by grace through faith, but you still have to obey God in order to make it into heaven. Otherwise, someone could just live how they want to and say, “I believe” and think they are saved!

I am 50 something years old. This means, in the circles that I have been in in my life, that I have been to fifty something reformation celebrations and conferences. I have heard every angle of Sola Fide (faith alone) my whole life. I have heard from my youth the story of Martin Luther writing in the margins of his Gutenberg Bible “sola” – by Rom. 1:17 (the just shall live by faith).

And I have seen, more and more, as the years have gone by, these same circles adding the “Yes, but…”

You still have to obey, right?

You preach on justification by grace through faith, and you will get the whispered “Amen” and the pious nod, and the muttered, “And obedience, of course….”

We even turned it into a hymn:

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

In the first decade of the 21st century, my father fought the battle when it was called “Federal vision”; you are saved by grace and covenant faithfulness. He said we would have to fight it again, and he was right. The devil always adds the “yes, but…” to the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The “yes, but…” always takes the same form. You are saved by grace alone, but you won’t inherit the kingdom of God unless you add obedience to that faith. Whatever you put in the space of obedience – more love, more submission, more devotions, more, more, more – whatever you add, it doesn’t matter. You are adding something to the completed work of Christ. And when you go there, you have denied the gospel and you have denied Christ.

And this is what the book of Galatians is all about.

On this 500th year after Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church, I thought it would be good for us to remind ourselves of how we are righteous before God. Where is peace to be found? How can I become a better person? How can I put to death the sinful nature that I still see in my life? How can I become more and more like Jesus?

And this is the book of Galatians. Today, I would like to give an overview, so we can see the argument from start to finish, and then I will go back and take it section by section. But I hate things out of context. So I will continually remind you of the context.

On Paul’s first missionary journey, he went to the Roman Province of Galatia and founded many churches. They had heard the gospel gladly and believed.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, there were many thousands of converts, and the other apostles were busy there. Some of those converts were Pharisees.

The Pharisees misunderstood the sign of circumcision. It was so heavily engrained in the Jews that circumcision was necessary for salvation that they could not fathom it any other way. In Jerusalem, it wasn’t a problem, because everyone was circumcised. But then Paul returns from his journey to Antioch and tells of the marvelous conversions among the Gentiles.

And they weren’t circumcised! It is somewhat hard for us to imagine how shocking this must have been to the converted Pharisees in Jerusalem. They had heard the promises in the Old Testament – how God would bring the gentiles to the light. But the idea of circumcision had been engrained so deeply into them for 2,000 years, that they just assumed that this meant that Gentiles would also be circumcised and keep the calendars, feast days, and rituals of the Jews.

So as Paul is in Antioch, some of these Pharisees came down to the church there and started insisting that every new Gentile convert become circumcised, or they couldn’t be saved. They also pretended to be sent by the apostles in Jerusalem. In this pretense, they said that Paul wasn’t sent by any apostles, so he was less authoritative than they were. We are sent by the apostles. He wasn’t. Listen to us, not to him.

Paul the Apostle, saw that this was actually far deeper than it appeared on the surface. It would have been easy to cave and to avoid all sorts of strife. But he knew what was at stake:

If circumcision was necessary for salvation, then Jesus is not a savior. He didn’t actually save anyone. He just made salvation possible – if you add a ritual or a work or something to it. But if Jesus truly saves us from our sins, then we are actually and truly saved. And if we are truly saved, nothing else needs to be added.

If it is necessary to be circumcised, then Christ died for nothing. And in the place of circumcision, you can add any work you like, the theology is the same. If it is necessary for you to do ANYTHING to inherit eternal life, then Jesus died for nothing. We could have just saved ourselves if we had had the right motivation.

If circumcision was necessary, then Christianity was just another sect of Judaism, and just another religion that teaches another way to do something to gain God’s favor.

This is what was at stake. The church at Antioch understood the issues and, together with the church in Jerusalem, they called a council to be held in Jerusalem to examine the issue. We read about this in Acts 15.

Paul returns with the decree. We aren’t laying any burdens on you. You also are led by the Spirit. You also are righteous before God. You have all that you need.

The four stipulations that they add are out of concern for harmony in the church. They are not four works that you must add to the completed work of Christ, as Paul will explain in Galatians. Rather, they are simply instructions for how Jewish and Gentile converts should live together in harmony. They had never done that in thousands of years.

So Paul returns with that decree. But the Pharisees still added their “yes, but…” to the council’s decree. They continued up to Galatia. They continued to slander Paul, saying that he wasn’t sent by any apostle and he had the gospel wrong. To the gospel of Jesus Christ, they substituted their false gospel – that it was necessary for new converts to be circumcised in order to be saved.

When Paul heard that the churches of Galatia were starting to be troubled and believe what they were hearing, he wrote this epistle. His purpose was to explain the decision of the Jerusalem council, warning the sheep about the denial of the gospel that was taking place and teaching Christians of every age how to answer this question: “When I stand before God, will I be judged a sinner or will I be judged righteous”? How can I know for sure?

When you answer that question right, everything else flows from there.

Salvation by grace alone through faith alone doesn’t ever do away with the law of God. It establishes the law. In fact, it is the only way to actually begin to keep the law, as Paul will argue in chapters 5 and 6.

First, God is not interested in man-made rules. So we can immediately throw away all relics, saints, kissing hands and toes, masses, purity balls, and the other rituals – whatever they are.

But what about God’s law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. Doesn’t God require that we keep them? Then how can you say that salvation is by grace through faith alone?

When you understand the nature of God’s law, the question becomes more clear. God is not interested in outward obedience, for God sees the heart. A command can be obeyed out of fear or out of desire for reward, but God wants hearts that love him. How can you love God with all of your heart if there is even one part of you that believes that God is just waiting for you to mess up so he can throw you into hell forever? If you are not righteous before God, then love is impossible, for you cannot see God except as a terrifying judge. This is a God to flee from, not a God to love.

But the gospel is a changed heart, not a check-list.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Gal. 6:15)

Paul begins by defending his call against the lies of the usurpers. He isn’t just making up a man-made religion; but is bringing the very words of God as an apostle of Jesus Christ. It is true that he wasn’t sent by the apostles. He didn’t even confer with them. He was commissioned directly by Christ.

His point is this: You have the gospel directly from God through my mouth. If anyone tells you otherwise, I don’t care who they are, let them be anathema. This whole “appeal to authority” is useless!

In fact, even Peter got it wrong. He was visiting Antioch and when these Pharisees arrived he chickened out. He even left the table of the Gentiles to eat with the Jews!

Paul says, in effect, “I didn’t care that this was Peter. I rebuked him, because he was wrong.”

Since the time of the reformation, there have been many who have said “yes, but…” to salvation by faith alone. They can find many quotes in many sources: Puritans, Dutch reformed, Presbyterians. Since 1517 There have been many who have succumbed to the temptation to revert to our natural religion and add the “Yeah, but…” to the finished work of Christ. Just like the Judaizers troubling Galatia, they quote authorities, seeking to drown out the opposition with contempt and verbiage, seeking to silence opposition through intimidation. You don’t know what you are talking about. Just keep quiet and let the experts deal with this.

And Paul responds with this:

8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8)

After he establishes that the gospel is from God and not up for debate, he expresses his shock that they so quickly denied Christ. He explains what he means in chapters 3 and 4.

They want to add circumcision and make it necessary for salvation. So he breaks that down. Did they forget what the promise to Abraham actually was and who qualified for it? The law requires this:

3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully.

5 He shall receive blessing from the LORD, And righteousness from the God of his salvation.

(Ps. 24:3-5)

Pure means pure; No admixture of sin. A little bit of poison is still deadly, even if the water it is mixed in is pure. A little leaven leavens everything. A little sin ruins every chance of standing before God. Only those pure in all of their thoughts and clean in all of their actions can stand before God. So, you who think you can add to Christ, think of the last work that you did. Can it really stand before God? Just that one work? If you said “Yes” then you can add lying and pride to that work. Now where are you?

This is why the promise was given to Abraham’s seed. Not seeds. Seed. There was only one who qualified, and the only way for you to qualify is if you are found in him. And you are united to him only by the Holy Spirit.

And how do you receive the Spirit, by keeping the law, or by faith?

The first option (keeping the law, doing things, earning rewards) Paul calls “the flesh”. It is our natural religion, which we inherited from Adam. If I do good things, or at least better things than Abel, God will be forced to let me back in to Eden. This is the flesh. The second, righteousness of another received by faith, is called the “spirit”.

The flesh is what we bring out of our own treasury. It is our will-power, our choices, our decisions, our law-keeping, our own purity. It’s what we inherited from Adam.

The spirit is what we received by our new birth. It is our complete reliance on the finished and perfect work of Christ for all that is necessary for our salvation.

And Paul says this:

3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3)

And there is the theme of the book. The idea that you must add obedience to the completed work of Christ is called the flesh, and you won’t ever get what you think you will get from the flesh.

You think you will get purity and righteousness and something that you can offer to God. Instead you will get uncleanness of every kind:

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

And every church that teaches that we must add to Christ’s work, no matter what it is they say must be added, is full of oppression, adultery, fornication, witchcraft, hatred, etc. God said that is exactly what it will bring, and we have seen it for 2000 years.

Tetzel, the peddler of forgiveness of sins in Luther’s day, was also a grand inquisitor of Poland. He tortured, raped, slaughtered, raged against the weak and helpless in his lusts for power.

And so also today. We have come so far from the gospel, that the churches are full of all sorts of wickedness – just as Paul said.

What do we want instead? We as Christians want to please God. And here is a promise for all who hunger after righteousness.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Fruit is not something that is added to make the tree good. Fruit grows naturally from a healthy tree. And the health of the tree only comes from union with Christ by faith. You can’t hold to Christ and to your own righteousness at the same time. You can’t ever get there by seeking to add to the finished work of Christ. You can only get there by confessing how far away you are, and asking again for the gift of the Spirit, rejoicing that all of your sins are truly forgiven and that you are an heir of eternal life, because Christ died for you and you have already been crucified with him.

The more we understand that, the more we will see the fruit of the spirit in our lives. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control.

And when those are perfected, the law is kept naturally, as birds fly and fish swim. This will be our state in heaven. There won’t be laws on stone, because they will be written completely on the heart.

So the gospel isn’t at all contrary to the law of God. Those who say so are the least in the kingdom of heaven. The law is actually established by the law. This is what Jesus meant when he said

Unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

In all of their striving to make sure the law was kept, they instead kept none of it. They were murderers and liars who tithed mint and anise and cumin.

Is that actually what God desires? How can we be so foolish?

So Paul concludes with this:

14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Gal. 6:14-15)

This is what circumcision actually pointed to. Everything unclean must be cut off. But this is what the Holy Spirit is doing now, in the lives of all who come to him empty handed. God isn’t interested in what ritual these old, cursed, bodies went through. All of this fades into dust. We are dying men among dying men, and need to stop pretending otherwise.

Salvation is Christ alone. By faith alone. By grace alone. There is nothing more to be added, nothing more to be done. When we have that right, that is the beginning of new life, a new creature, for we have eternal life and it has begun already.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Work

Rahab and the Gospel

(Joshua 2:4-6)  4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
  5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.
  6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.

For reasons unknown to me, those in Reformed circles continually discuss the ethical problems posed by Rahab.

According to the strict reading of the account, she did not tell the truth to the officials who asked where the spies were. To not mince words, she lied.

Here is the problem. In her lie, she saved the lives of the men. In saving the lives of the men, she saved her own life and the lives of her family. And, to take it one step further, the scripture itself commends Rahab for her lie and states that it was done in faith.

(James 2:25) 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

So here is the ethical dilemma, for those who are wired for disputes over the law: Did Rahab sin when she lied?

On the one hand, we certainly do not want to say that the Ten Commandments are situational. Committing adultery and murder are wrong, no matter what the situation is. And the devil that is a liar. God’s people are to be people of the truth.

On the other hand, Rahab’s only other option was to say nothing or to tell the truth – either way, she would have condemned the spies to death and condemned herself and her family along with them.

So which is it? The debate will continue forever.

But may I suggest that the debate itself is wrong. The accounts of scripture are not given to us as moral tales. The point of Rahab is not the importance of truth telling. When you look at these accounts as moral fables as is done by countless children’s Sunday School books, you miss the point. The Old Testament is not a McGuffey reader or the Aesop’s fables of Israel. Jesus said all of scripture is about HIM.

All scripture is given to point us to Christ. Let’s look at the account of Rahab through the lens of the New Testament, as the apostles would have us do.

(Hebrews 11:31)  31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Let’s put the account in its proper place. The people of God, the nation of Israel, was bringing the judgment of God to Jericho. They were being led by Christ himself, the Captain of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5:14). Utter destruction was the plan. The city of Jericho knew it, for they trembled at their arrival. Rahab testified that there was no more courage in the whole city. Judgment was upon them.

Rahab only had one chance – side with the people of God, and perhaps God in his mercy would spare her. The only other option was destruction.

We could, by the way, endlessly speculate on other options, but scripture does not. These are the only options in scripture.

When the official came to Rahab’s door, it was not an ethical exercise. It was very, very real. Save the lives of the spies and be spared yourself. Or hold on to your own self-righteousness and die.

Now was not the time for self-righteousness. Now was the time to choose a side. Throw in your hand with God’s people and the promised seed? Or be destroyed with the whole city?

So let me suggest reading this account through the eyes of faith, and learning from the example of Rahab, as the writer of Hebrews would have us do.

This world is heading for judgment as certainly as Jericho was. This judgment will begin in the house of God, and is already taking place. Incest, abuse, rape, oppression, spiritual bullying, extortion, casting out the widow and orphan take place continually – in the Church of God. Judgment is coming. And if this is the state of the church, how much worse is the state of those outside? When the salt has lost it’s savor, what will it be salted with?

Perhaps, as Rahab did, now is the time to say, “Lord, have mercy on us!” and cling to Christ, as Rahab did. Rahab saw his coming by faith and rejoiced. The Pharisees bickered over the law.

Paul wrote:

(Philippians 3:8-9)  8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
  9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Perhaps now is the time to exalt Christ, cling to him by faith, and count our own “righteousness” as dung. Remember that Rahab was a harlot – not exactly a moral paragon. Just as each one of us, we either receive the mercy of God, or we die on our sins. Now is not the time to bicker over the law. Now is the time to flee to Christ, as Rahab did.  Her choice was to either cling onto some weird self-righteousness (at least I don’t lie) and die. Or come to Christ in the shadow of the spies and live.

She chose to live – to count her own righteousness as dung, that she might gain Christ and know the power of his resurrection.

That – it seems to me – is the point of the account. The rest we can argue over until doomsday, but it doesn’t seem to be to be a fruitful use of time.

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Filed under Gospel, Union with Christ

The Woman and the Vow

Having heard yet again that Numbers 30 teaches that every woman is under a “covenant head” who has absolute authority over every decision she makes, I decided to correct that and draw your attention to the text itself.

Before my meager comments, I would suggest that you read the passage for yourself. I’ll wait.

Now, you may have heard it taught that this means that a woman under her father’s headship until she is married and then that transfers to her husband. You may have heard it said that this teaches that a father can annul a marriage or a credit application or a rental agreement.

You may have heard that it teaches a thing called “covenantal headship”, even though the scripture only speaks of Adam and Christ as covenant heads.

But a simple reading of the passage shows that it teaches no such thing.

First, notice that it is said twice that it refers to young women still at home, or married women. God specifically, by name, excludes widows and divorced or otherwise single women, (verse 9-10; verse 16) assuming that they have enough wisdom and understanding to make their own vows. They are bound to their vows, which shows that God values the voice of a woman far more than most patriarchialists.

Second, this is a passage that has to do with vows. A vow had a specific religious meaning in scripture. To quote from Nelson’s dictionary (or any other bible dictionary you might have),

A vow is “a solemn promise or pledge that binds a person to perform a specified act or behave in a certain manner….All vows were made to God as a promise in expectation of his favor (Gen. 28:20) or in thanksgiving for his blessing (Psalm 119:12-14)…Vowing is joyful worship in faith and love (Psalm 61:4-5, 8)”

In other words, a vow is a specific act of worship. The whole point of Numbers 30 (and you can also look at Eccl. 5:4-6) is that when one makes a vow, one is bound to perform it, for God has no pleasure in fools. This is important to remember. Look again at Numbers 30 verse 2 for the context of what I am about to say.

Scripture gives several examples of these kinds of vows. Jacob took one. Jephthah took a foolish one. Even the Apostle Paul took a vow and traveled to Jerusalem to perform it (Acts 18:18). A vow is a specific act of worship and devotion.

But there is one example of a vow taken by a woman married to a husband that would be very helpful to analyze for this discussion. Hannah took a vow that if the Lord opened her womb, she would dedicate the child to the Lord to serve in the Temple every day of his life (1 Sam. 1). It was a vow of faith by a woman who was a prophet. In her mouth and in her heart, she longed for a redeemer to come out of Zion and she knew somehow that the child that the Lord would give her would lead to that end (See her song in 1 Sam. 2).

This was a vow of worship made by a woman of faith, who was also living with a husband, Elkanah. This would be a direct application of Numbers 30. So let’s look at it from that perspective.

A vow made in the temple before the Lord is a serious thing, and Hannah is bound to perform it. But the vow also involved Elkanah. After all, it was his child as well. Suppose he was furious, and absolutely refused to give his son to the Lord. That would be his right to do so. Vows, after all, were voluntary. If Elkanah was adamantly opposed to the vow, this could cause great trouble to Hannah.

What could she do? She could infuriate, disappoint, frustrate, anger her husband and live with the consequences, or she could go back on her vow and disobey God – which, as we have said, is an offense that God does not take lightly.

It would seem that she would be in a horrible mess.

And this is where Numbers 30 comes in. If the woman is still under her father’s roof, or has a husband, her vow does not just affect her. If the father or husband refuse, she is no longer bound to her vow. God accepts her and loves her and honors her and wants her to be at peace in her home.

It is interesting that God does not forbid women from making vows. He assumes that she has property and goods and strength and the ability to keep the vow. He doesn’t even teach that she should “check with her husband first”.

God cares for the wives and daughters, who are in  his image and also called to have dominion. He honors their voice and their worship; he accepts their sacrifices of praise and he hears and honors their vows. They are called to take that very seriously.

But God also knows that a vow – since it usually involved money, goods, livestock or perhaps even children – also affected the husband or the father. If he was of the possessive sort or simply did not want to give up the goods, she was no longer bound, but free.

For God would have us be free, not in bondage.

On another note, since the Temple worship and the sacrifices and priesthood involved with it all are no longer part of the worship of God, having been abolished by Christ, the vow as practiced by Israel no longer applies. But we can still live in peace and freedom which is what God would have of us.

Never let anyone bring you back under the yoke of bondage, no matter how many letters they have on their name.

And one more thing, it is very beneficial to read the scripture for yourselves and see if it actually says what you have been told it says. Don’t be threatened by credentials. You also are led by the spirit. Search the scriptures, and see if these things be so (Acts 17:11).

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Filed under Marriage, Men and women, Patriarchy

“I will give you rest…”

2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Gen 2:2-3 KJV)

The seventh day, God rested. Of course, we finite creatures cannot possibly understand what this means for an infinite God, but it was written for our benefit. God rests, and created man to enter into that rest.’

But man fell, and was driven from the Garden. I am one of the few that take the history of Genesis literally. I can’t explain men and women, their desires, their loves, their hates, their unfulfilled longings any other way. Man was created to enter into God’s holy habitation. But man became unholy, defiled and corrupt, with a memory of what was lost.

But God did not cast them into hell. Instead, he provided a way of salvation. He provided a way of restoration. We call this the covenant of grace, and it was first announced after man’s fall in the Garden of Eden.

The bondage that mankind put themselves in was illustrated perfectly in Israel’s hard bondage in Egypt. They were slaves to Pharaoh and there was nothing that they could do about it. Pharaoh was too strong, and Israel was too weak. So also with all mankind. Sin is too strong and we are too weak.

We commit our way to God and tell ourselves that today we are going to live righteously. And if you understand God’s holy law, you realize that your commitment lasted until your feet hit the floor. We sin because we are born corrupt and twisted, serving ourselves and our own lusts continually. We hate our sins and yet continually return to them. We loathe ourselves at night and make more resolutions. And break them again first thing in the morning. Over and over again. Sin is a harsh and undefeatable task-master.

Unless God intervenes.

God intervened with Israel in Egypt. He gave them the Passover lamb. They put the blood of the lamb on the door of their houses, and that night the firstborn of Egypt died and Israel was free.

Think of it – they had their first day off in their whole lives. They were free from their taskmasters. And that day, their first day of freedom, marked the first Sabbath. From them on, every seventh day Israel rested.

God told them why in Exodus 31:

13 Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. (Exo 31:13 KJV)

Israel was given the Sabbath as a sign – that Jehovah is the only one that sanctifies his people. God himself makes us holy and fit for the holy habitation of God. Only then can we enter into God’s rest. Just as God delivered them from Pharaoh, so also God promised that he would deliver them from the bondage of sin. But just as Israel could not deliver themselves from Pharaoh, so also mankind could never deliver themselves from the bondage of sin. But that which is impossible for God is possible for man.

This was also signified in the land of Canaan. Joshua led them around Jericho once for six days and on the seventh, he led them around 7 times. On the seventh time of the seventh day, the walls fell flat and Israel entered their rest.

But those who didn’t believe the promise – the God would give them rest – their bodies fell in the wilderness:

10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.

(Psa 95:10-96:1 KJV)

By the time Jesus came into the world, the Jews had changed the meaning of the Sabbath. Instead of the Sabbath pointing to Jehovah sanctifying his people and giving them rest, the Sabbath day became a harsh burden of a thousand different things that could or could not be done. They had 39 categories of work, each with 6 sub-categories – all of which were forbidden. And the different Rabbinical traditions had their own interpretations and their own rules. All were inflexible. All were merciless.

To the Pharisee, the Sabbath meant that if you worked really hard, did the right things, and separated from those horrible sinners then you could perhaps convince God to begrudgingly allow you entrance into Abraham’s bosom.

As long as you didn’t miss anything.

The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over the Sabbath wasn’t over which works were allowed and which were not allowed. The point was over the meaning of the Sabbath to begin with. The one promised who would give them rest, who would sanctify his people, who would bring his people into his eternal rest,  was standing right in front of them!

How could they have known he was the one promised? Isaiah wrote:

4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: (Isa 35:4-6 KJV)

Israel would know that God had come to their aid when they saw the eyes of the blind opened, the tongue of the dumb loosened, and the lame man walking. And this was exactly what Jesus did. And he did it on the Sabbath day. What was more fitting? The lamb of God sanctifying his people and preparing them for heaven on the very day that was a sign of that reality?

The reason Israel was forbidden to work on that day was so they would always remember the sign. God sanctifies his people. God delivers his people. God saves his people.

We don’t save ourselves; God saves us. What a tremendous promise! To rest on the Sabbath meant that you had to trust God for your daily bread. And if you lifted your eyes upward, you would see that you also were to trust God to fulfill his promise to sanctify his people. God would give us His righteousness if only we accept it with a believing heart.

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,
(Rom 9:30-32 NAS)

The Pharisees of every age, on the other hand, followed the natural religion. If we are good enough, God will bless us. And they worked hard at it. They slaved for God’s approval. And they despised Jesus for being gracious to those who didn’t work near hard enough for that favor.

“We have worked, and slaved, and done hard labor our whole lives for God’s favor, and you are telling us that this beggar, this sinner, this publican, this “loose woman”, this Gentile, can just waltz right in and God will accept them??”

This is a big study, but a worthwhile one. A modern Pharisee won’t see the point, and will probably get irritated. But here is why I am telling you about the Jewish Sabbath and the conflict between Jesus and the Jews: We still have the same conflict today.

We have experts of every stripe telling us how to sanctify ourselves to make ourselves worthy of God’s favor. We have annual conferences on how to be manly husbands, feminine wives. We spend millions of dollars on books on how to pray, how to gain God’s favor, how to act, how to marry, how to live. We have our celebrity preachers who will tell you, for a cost, about their schemes, and their soundbites and their plans and their programs. Here’s how you must raise your kids. Here is how you must homeschool. Here is what to wear, what to eat, what to watch on TV, what not to watch on TV. Here’s is how to be a good wife. Here is how to be a good husband. Here is how short your skirt must be; here is what kind of blouse you must wear and what material it must be made of.

All for money or power. We have made Christianity so complicated and so full of so many rules and regulations. And every church has their own rules and regulations.

God only gave us Ten Commandments, but we have multiplied statutes to ourselves and ignored the law completely. We kill, maim, slander, rape, assault, and give approval to those who do the same. But we make sure the skirt is the right length, the wrong beverages are avoided, the appropriate demeanor is put on the face.

The message is clear. Grace is free and unmerited, as long as you do all of the right things, act the right way, go to the right conferences, and do what you are supposed to do. And I will tell you what those things are, as long as you fill out this registration form and send your check or money order to the registrar on time. Can we not see the contradiction? Is the righteousness of God freely given, or bought with money and works?

What has happened to the gospel of Jesus Christ? I don’t even recognize it anymore.

Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of self-appointed prophets gaining wealth over the backs of the poor and downtrodden? Aren’t you tired of watching your every step, making sure that you are manly enough, feminine enough, righteous enough, a good enough parent, a good enough citizen? Are you weary of the constant vigilance? Don’t you need a Sabbath rest?

Then here is the message of the Sabbath again:

4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” (Isa 35:4 NAS)

To you who have been made afraid, you who have been abused and cast away like garbage, know this: God is gathering a people for himself. He is sanctifying those people and preparing them to enter into His rest. And he will come with vengeance. Egypt, Jericho, Babylon and earthly Jerusalem all fall to the ground.

It is the meek, the oppressed, the poor, that inherit the earth. And nothing unclean will enter in.

And you cannot barge your way through the gates. The only way is through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

So don’t be afraid. There aren’t a thousand different rules by a thousand different men. There is only one way to salvation, only one way to sanctification.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Act 16:31 KJV)

And

20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
21 “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
(Gal 2:20-21 NAS)

And here:

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28-30 KJV)

If you have not found rest for you souls, you have not yet found Christ. Come to him, I urge you, and rest.

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