Monthly Archives: April 2021

BELOVED GENTILES

BELOVED GENTILES

“As He says in Hosea: ‘I will call them “my people” who are not my people; and I will call her “my loved one” who is not my loved one,’ and “in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called “children of the living God.”

“Isaiah cried out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out His sentence on earth with speed and finality.’

“It is just as Isaiah said previously, ‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.'” Romans 9:25-29.

Paul was concerned that his own people had got it back-to-front. They considered themselves God’s privileged people; therefore they were high on the agenda of God’s priorities while the Gentiles, who were scum in their eyes, and naturally, in God’s eyes as well, according to them, were the rejected ones.

But God had other ideas. Through Hosea’s own tragic experience, He had shown Israel that, because of their unbelief, they had become the rejected ones. Like the loose woman whom Hosea married and who bore children that were not his, God’s people were living like spiritual prostitutes and reproducing themselves in their offspring, and not children who loved and obeyed God. Hosea reflected, in the naming of Gomer’s children, God’s attitude towards His people. ‘Not my people! Not loved!” was His cry against them.

However, it is not in God’s nature to go back on His word. He had called Israel to be His own people and, despite their disobedience, He promised that there would always be a remnant who would remain true to Him. From them He would rebuild the nation – a people who would be true to Him and who would fulfil His desire to call the Gentiles into faith as well.

Through God’s mercy, there were many Jews who embraced Jesus as their Messiah and the restoration of God’s rule on earth, and went forth in obedience to Him to take the good news to the world. The rest of the Jews, in their mistaken racial pride, persecuted the remnant for daring to include Gentiles in a relationship with God which they believed belonged exclusively to them.

Paul and his fellow apostles tasted the viciousness of their opposition in every city and town they visited. So relentless was their campaign against them that Paul cried out to God for relief.

“In order to keep me from becoming conceited, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties for, when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10.

What was Paul saying? Just as God had warned Israel in the early days of their nationhood, that they would be persecuted by those who rejected His ways (Numbers 33:55; Judges 2; 3), so now the Jews who rejected Jesus were thorns in the flesh of believers. They disqualified themselves from receiving God’s mercy, opening the door for the Gentiles to become part of the people of God.

The unbelieving Jews had themselves to thank, in the sovereign plan of God, for giving the opportunity to the despised Gentiles to hear the gospel from the very men who had preached to them and offered them the first choice to receive their Messiah. Paul had decided that he would no longer waste his efforts on them. To the Gentiles he would go – and they received the message gladly!

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

A FUTILE OBJECTION

A FUTILE OBJECTION

“One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist His will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this’?” Does not the potter have the right to make of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath – prepared for destruction? What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory, even us whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Romans 9:19-24.

“He made me do it!” Ever heard that objection from the mouth of a little kid just caught with his hand in the cookie jar? What a futile objection.

It’s the kind of argument Paul envisaged from someone who was trying to wriggle out of taking responsibility for his wicked actions. “It’s God’s fault,” he insists. “He made me like this.” Really! Like the young girl who finds out she’s pregnant after a one-night stand and whines, “Why did God allow this to happen?” Did God take her by the scruff of the neck and force her into a promiscuous lifestyle?

However, is goes deeper than that. As much as we dare not blame God for our sinful behaviour, how can we scrutinise His justice and find fault with Him when we cannot fathom the depths of His nature or understand His ways? Of one thing we can be absolutely certain: God cannot do wrong. If He were able to act unjustly, He would no longer be God and He would not be eternal because injustice is sin which leads to death.

So, what exactly is Paul telling us? Firstly, it is God’s prerogative to choose what kind of vessel to make when He begins to mould the clay. The clay is His and so is the choice of design and purpose.

Secondly, He creates each vessel according to His purpose. He always has the bigger picture in mind. To change the metaphor,He is writing His story – the one that puts His glory on display for the entire universe to see. Every detail must fit into His purpose and every character in the story must play his part in displaying God whether through His wrath or through His mercy.

Thirdly, God always takes into account His gift of free will to every human being. That does not make God subject to our choices but, in a mysterious way that we will never understand this side of heaven, God’s sovereignty overrides even our free will. Yet, at the same time, He holds every person accountable for his choices. He does not make us disobedient, nor does He want us to be disobedient just to carry out His plans but, at the same time, our disobedience is put to good use in the plot of His story! How does that work? I don’t know but God does!

Peter put these two ideas together with great skill on the day of Pentecost when he explained the strange goings-on to the astonished crowd.

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross.” Acts 2:23.

Here was Peter, placing the responsibility for crucifying Jesus squarely on the shoulders of his hearers, yet seeing God behind it all and, at the same time, offering them repentance and the opportunity to change and be a part of God’s story! Wow! How is that for a matchless story-line?

How can we marry these two ideas? God creates some vessels for wrath and yet He gives them opportunity to change their minds and waits patiently for them to receive His mercy. But He also knows they will refuse, and He writes them into His story – like Pharaoh… like Judas…! Is He unfair? Is He unjust? No way!

What’s the point? It’s not about pointing fingers at God and demanding “How could you do that to him?” but it’s about falling on your knees before him and weeping in gratitude, “Thank you, Father, for your mercy to me.”

Have you done that?

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

IT’S A MYSTERY

IT’S A MYSTERY

“What, then, shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.” Romans 9:14-18.

Now we get to the difficult part. We view God through our human eyes and think that He has no right to do with people whatever He chooses.

Does that mean that God deliberately creates some people to show off His glory by making them wicked and then sending them to hell? The Bible never insinuates that He ever does anything like that. This is the kind of thing a man-made god, capricious and unpredictable like its creator, would do!

We have to see the picture from God’s perspective. Since our forefather Adam decided to disregard God’s instruction and make his own rules, the entire human race has been in a state of rebellion against God, leaving Him no option but to allow the consequences of our rebellion take their course. To be true to His justice, He has to punish sin. His punishment comes in the form of death because death is the result of anything imperfect and corrupt.

God could have left it at that and allowed the entire human race to perish at its own hand. Instead, because of His mercy, He intervened by sending His Son to take the rap for us. Having removed the reason for our punishment, He invites whoever wants to, to receive His mercy and His gift of forgiveness, and get back on track to being restored to His image. With sin and punishment out of the way, those who entrust themselves to Him are in the process of being made holy; that is, being set free from sin to obey God for His purposes and for His glory.

So, where do our rights come into it? As guilty sinners, the only right we ever have is to God’s justice – and that means eternal separation from Him. He put His law into our hearts at conception. Everyone instinctively knows what is right and wrong; and that makes us doubly guilty before God – guilty because we know what is right and guilty because we because we refuse to submit to His authority and choose to do wrong.

How can we question God if He chooses to show mercy to those who respond to His invitation to return to Him, and to reject those who reject Him? Take the case of Pharaoh to which Paul refers. The Biblical record indicates that God gave Pharaoh ten opportunities to listen to His instruction, and release His people, but five times Pharaoh refused.

Every time he refused to obey God, his heart became harder towards Him. It was not God’s fault that Pharaoh would not acknowledge His authority. Pharaoh made his choice and God simply confirmed it by making it impossible to for him change his mind. So, whose fault was it that Egypt was destroyed? God’s fault? No! Pharaoh chose to ignore God’s warnings and take the consequences. And, in so doing, he inadvertently shone the light on God’s power and glory.

Does that mean that our destiny is in our own hands? Yes, in a sense it does, and yet, at the same time, in a way which is beyond our understanding, God miraculously intervenes and rescues us from our own stubborn rejection. Take Paul, for example. He would never have become the apostle he was, had Jesus not confronted him on the Damascus road. He needed that kind of shock treatment to wake him up to the truth.

That is the mercy of God! If left to our own devices, would we ever turn to Him? I don’t think so. Self-will is too deeply entrenched for us to let go easily. The miracle is that some people actually respond to God’s mercy, turn away from their sin and follow the way back to Him. They are the ones who fulfil His will, enjoy His goodness and will experience the fullness of eternal life.

It truly is a mystery – this sovereignty of God!

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

ELECTION AND PREDESTINATION

ELECTION AND PREDESTINATION

“Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by Him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” Romans 9:10-13.

This election thing is mighty confusing, isn’t it? It seems as though God is unfair. How can He choose some people to salvation and others to condemnation before they are even born? But wait a minute. Before we jump to such conclusions, we need to get rid of some assumptions.

Take predestination, for example. Does the Bible imply that God sits in heaven sorting people out and saying, “One for heaven, one for hell,” like a love-sick teenager picking petals off a daisy and chanting, “He loves me, he loves me not”? Not at all! What kind of God would He be to do that? What does the Bible say?

Predestination is not about eternal salvation but about destiny. So what’s the difference? Look at it this way. If I choose to make medicine my career, the moment I walk through the doors of the university and begin my studies, I am destined to be a doctor. I will study medicine and be trained in the skills and practices of a medical doctor and when I Ieave the university and go out to practice what I have learned, I will be able to give myself the title, Dr So-and-So because that is what I have been trained to do.

The only difference between what happens to me in my career which is earthly and temporary and my eternal destiny is that God pre-destined me, not to be a doctor but to be conformed to the image of His Son. Before the foundation of the world, He decided that those who believe in His Son will perfectly resemble Him when God has completed His work in them. Can you see the difference? It’s not about who will be saved and who will not be saved. It’s about who we will be like when we have followed Jesus and lived out this life.

What about election? Again, we must set aside our assumptions and read what the Bible actually says. Election is also not about salvation. It’s about God’s choice of what people will do with their lives. He chose Jacob to be the ancestor of the people through whom He would create a nation that would belong to Him. He wanted a group of people with whom He would be in a covenant relationship and through whom Messiah would come.

He chose Jacob over Esau before their birth, not because of anything they had done but because of His grace. It was about Him, not about them; about His purposes, not theirs. Why did Paul quote the verse, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”? This is not about emotion but about intention. Jesus used the same idea to describe what a disciple’s attitude should be towards Him in comparison with his relationship to his closest relatives. Love – hate is about priorities, not attitudes.

God chose and focussed His attention on Jacob because He had chosen him to be a forefather of Jesus. That did not mean that Esau was chosen for hell. It meant that God had a different purpose for him and his descendants and it was up to him to obey God and fulfil his purpose in God’s scheme of things.

God’s purposes for us are all different, but that does not mean that we are not part of His big plan. If we obey Him, we are all part of what He is doing even if we are not in the limelight as His people were. What is most important to us is that we are accountable for our choices and for the way we live our lives, whether we fulfil our destiny or not.

So. let’s not misjudge God. Let’s check His word and see for ourselves that His dealings with us are always in love and grace. That we have any part in His plan is because of His mercy. When we are in Christ, we have a destiny to be like Jesus and to be part of God’s plan to reach others in whichever way He calls us and fits us for our calling. Our response should always be one of thanksgiving for His mercy and trust that He will perfect His will in us as we follow and obey Him.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM

DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM

“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Romans 9:6-9.

Who, then, are the true children of Abraham? Although Ishmael was Abraham’s first child, he was the son of Sarah’s slave and not Abraham’s heir. It was Isaac, Abraham’s son by his wife, Sarah, who was reckoned as Abraham’s firstborn and therefore entitled to inherit Abraham’s property but, even more important than that, the promises of God to Abraham and his offspring.

According to the Scriptures, there are three streams of people who claim descent from Abraham. The ancient Israelites and now the Jews, are his physical descendants and are the rightful heirs of the land of Israel. God promised it to Abraham and gave it to the nation born through him by divine intervention. Although it is the source of bitter conflict and bloodshed, and although much of the rest of the world refuses to recognise their rightful ownership, God’s mandate to the Jews has never been withdrawn.

The second group of people who claim legitimate descent from Abraham are the offspring of Ishmael. God promised that He would also make him a great nation (Genesis 21:13, 18) but he and his descendants were not included in His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 21:12). They have no legal right to the land of Israel.

But there is a third group whom God recognises as the true sons of Abraham. During a heated debate with Jesus, the religious leaders vehemently defended their legitimate descent from Abraham. Jesus promised freedom to those who followed Him. The Jews responded:

“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” John 8:33.

Had they conveniently forgotten that they were descendants of those who had been enslaved by the Egyptians and by the Babylonians and, even as they spoke, they were under Roman oppression? Did not God identify Himself to them as the God who delivered them out of Egyptian bondage?

Jesus’ reply was scrutinising:

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father… As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who told you the truth that I heard from God.   Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father… You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.” John 8:37-38; 40-41; 44a.

A true son is one who resembles his father. Since the Jewish religious leaders were bent on killing Jesus, they were reflecting the nature of their spiritual father, the devil. The true sons of Abraham, then, are those who reflect him in their faith in God’s promises. Without denying natural descent, spiritual descent, from God’s point of view, is far more important than natural birth.

So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” Romans 4:11b, 12.

But what about the Jews who are natural descendants of Abraham but who reject Jesus as their Messiah? Is God finished with them? Do they no longer have a place in His plans? Although there are those who firmly believe and adamantly declare that the Christian church has replaced the Jews, we need to find out what the Scripture teaches about the future of God’s chosen people.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.