He has always been our vine, and we who believe are surely His branches

The Olive Tree, The Branches, and their Significance

(Romans chapter 11, verses 1-16)

let he who is without sin

In today’s chronological study of the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul continues his train of thought regarding the Hebrew people versus the remaining nations of the world. He continues to elaborate about the Jews as being God’s chosen people while he explains why that status was going to the Gentile nations instead of Israel. Paul quoted from the prophet Isaiah chapter 65 and verse one, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me”. God’s purpose for the Gentile nations (that’s us) was to extend the salvation of Christ to all humanity, provoking Israel to jealousy. So let’s pick up where we left off last week beginning at chapter 11, verse one.

“I ask then; did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says about the prophet Elijah – how he appealed to God against Israel: ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me’? (I Kings 19, verses 10 and 14) And what was God’s answer to him? ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed their knee to Baal’. (I Kings 19:18) So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What, then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.’ (Isaiah 29: 20) And David says, ‘May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see and their backs be bent forever’. (Psalm 69: 22-23) Again I ask, did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater will their fullness bring!” (Romans 11, verses 1-12)

God has not rejected the Jewish nation, Paul wrote, and he states unequivocally that he is living proof that this is so. Keep in mind that when Paul wrote these words, the overwhelming majority of Christians in the early church were Jewish converts. It is a documented fact that all of the living apostles (James had already been executed at the time these words were written) were ministering to the Jews of their day. Only Paul, as we learned from last week’s study, was ministering to the Gentiles. If I as an Israelite, Paul was saying, can be saved, then so can the rest of us. “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” As we have learned previously, grace is defined as unmerited favor from God. It is a free gift with no strings attached, provided that we surrender control of our lives to Jesus Christ, making him the Lord over all right down to our daily lives. “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did.” “The elect” is a reference to all non-Jews who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb of God, none other than Christ himself. “The elect” are all born-again Christians.

“…Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” Paul is saying here that since so many non-believing Jews had rejected the salvation of Christ, he would cause all the Gentile nations to get their fair share of grace ahead of the Jews, deliberately making them angry. Anyone who rejects Christ will be proven wrong, first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile. Those who are proven wrong but still will not change their ways are in danger of final judgment that leads to eternal death. But those who do believe, whether Jew or Gentile, will be granted eternal life in New Jerusalem, a life without end where time as we know it does not exist. Paul makes his point by comparing new Christians to branches of an olive tree. The olive tree is used throughout the Bible as a symbol for Israel. It goes back to the tradition of Jesus teaching us all that “I am the vine, and you are the branches”. It’s in all four gospels if you want to look it up.

“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I might somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough that is offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole branch is holy; if the root is holy, then so are the branches.” (Romans 11 verses 13-16)

In the first verse above, the apostle Paul makes reference to himself as a Jewish man when he talks about being an apostle to the Gentiles, or non-Jews. He then states by doing so he hoped to “somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them”. This is a direct reference to a passage in the book of Acts where Paul’s arguments for his new-found Christian faith are rejected by his Jewish peers at every turn. “Let your blood be on your own heads”, Paul exclaims to them. “From now on, I will take my message to the Gentiles”. Paul then uses a quote from Christ to make his point when he says,” If the part of the dough that is offered as first-fruits is holy, then the whole branch is holy”. Jesus said during one of his parables, “A small amount of yeast works through the whole batch of dough”. This is what Paul is referring to when he says, “ If the part of the dough that is offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole branch is holy.”

“First fruits” refers to the ancient Jewish tradition in the Old Testament of offering up a tenth of one’s livestock and their crops for sacrifice at the temple at Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this tradition is still being taught in some churches as being a requirement for ‘membership’ today even though Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross takes the place of Old Testament teachings. (yes, you should still give to your church and other non-profits, but the 10% requirement was abolished when Christ rose from the dead three days after he was crucified. Any church that teaches tithing 10% of one’s income today is bending and twisting the Gospel so as to turn houses of worship into profitable businesses. God will deal with them severely!).

So as we close out part 1 of Romans chapter 11, Paul the apostle is continuing his train of thought by emphasizing how essential the passion of Christ truly is to Jew and non-Jew alike. Next week when we conclude part 2, you will see the strong, sure hand of Paul’s guiding hand as he led the early Church towards its destiny. Until then, keep Christ in your heart close at hand.

What if you just discovered you were adopted? What about if you were a foster child?

We Are All Abraham’s Children

Romans chapter 9

In today’s study we will be tackling part 1 of Romans chapter nine. This chapter is a little bit more lengthy than some, and so I will break it up into 2 halves for the sake of brevity. As we begin today, the apostle Paul is still elaborating on what we now know as the end of chapter eight. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”, wrote Paul at the close of last week’s study. This means all believers and Christ followers are totally ‘bad to the bone’ in their spirits, with unbreakable willpower and strength of mind and spirit. Today we will continue to examine these Scriptures verse by verse in order to better our understanding (mine included, since I learn something new every time I write another one of these). So let’s get started at verse one, shall we?

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoptions as sons; theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because of his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary: ‘it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the 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’. Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, 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, verses 1-13)

We’ve all had those moments when we knew in our heart of hearts – still others have expressed it to me as “a feeling in their guts” – when we knew when something was either right or wrong, on target or a complete miss, or of simply finding oneself in a situation where they felt leery of the circumstances or the people in them for one reason or another. The feeling of something that is too good to be true is one such example. That is exactly what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit… ”. It is interesting to note here that Paul’s conscience had a direct connection to the Holy Spirit. They were interconnected in such a way that the presence of one element depended on the presence of the other. This is a goal that is worthy of attaining for the sake of our relationship with the Lord, that of unity of mind and Spirit. The more interdependent they are within ourselves, the closer our walk with Christ becomes.

Paul then goes on to lament his own people, the Hebrews of their day, for what they were missing out on as a result of their continued unbelief that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the Son of God. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoptions as sons; theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” Paul was reciting a litany of his own faith as he wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago. All he has written here is a summary of only a fraction of a part of the Law of Moses as it is documented from the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. The Jews of Paul’s day had Jesus crucified by the Romans. Instead of greeting him as their Savior and “Rabbi”, they had him executed.

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because of his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary:… ‘it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” When Paul wrote that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”, he was referring to Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac. Although they were twin brothers, Jacob became one of the patriarchs of Israel while Esau became the patriarch of the Philistines. (For more details on this topic you may refer to the book of Genesis starting around chapter 25.) Paul then expounds on the fact that it is not those who are Jewish by birth who are God’s children, but that it is all people – the entire world or body of believers – who have become Jewish by adoption with Jesus Christ as the head of our households. Only those who worship Jesus in Spirit and in truth will be adopted into the family of God, and all others will be rejected by God because of impure hearts and their clandestine motives.

If we had all of Romans 9 in front of us, we would see that we are at roughly the halfway point for this chapter. Beginning at verse 14, Paul the apostle continues to elaborate on whether God should be considered as just, as opposed to unjust, with respect to his seemingly inconsistent treatment of Jews and Gentiles. For a detailed study of the remainder of Romans chapter 9, watch for this in your inboxes or on your social media of choice. Until then, take care….

This week’s ongoing Biblical study series with Minister Paul J. Bern will be part 2 of Romans chapter 8

The Glory That Is In Store For Us

(Romans chapter 8, verses 18-30)


For today’s lesson we will continue in the book of Romans in chapter 8, beginning at verse 18. This part of Romans gives Christians everywhere hope for a blessed future that awaits all true believers. One could call this part of the Bible a pep talk being given by God through the apostle Paul as our heavenly Father takes on the role of a dad and life coach for all his children.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subject to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21)

 

Our present sufferings in this life are not worthy of compare when contrasted to the glory that awaits all who truly believe in Jesus. All of creation itself waits eagerly for the sons of God to be revealed. Creation itself will be freed from bondage and “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”. For all those who truly believe in Jesus, this is what awaits us when our current life is at its end and we transition into our spiritual life, one that has no end. Try to imagine an eternity of “glorious freedom” in Christ outside the boundaries of space and time. One thing is for certain, it is an excellent reason for everyone to cling to Jesus knowing that all this is what awaits us.

 

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8: 22-25)

 

In verse 23, the phrase “first-fruits” is taken from the law of Moses in the Old Testament. The Law of Moses is the first 5 books in the Old Testament beginning with Genesis and ending with Deuteronomy. First-fruits had to do with tithing 10% of what one had in the way of crops or livestock to the temple at Jerusalem at the time right after the beginning of the harvest. This was so that it could be offered up in sacrifice as atonement for sin, and this ancient Jewish tradition dates back well over 3,000 years. Notice there was no monetary system back then with printed money like we have today. That’s why the entire notion of paying 10% of our paychecks to churches is a distortion of the Scriptures at best, or a deliberate manipulation at worst.

 

So if we have the first-fruits of the Spirit of Jesus within us then we have a security deposit from God guaranteeing the eternity that is to come. That is why the very next sentence says that we “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”. Having the first-fruits of the Spirit guarantees our being literally adopted as God’s sons through Jesus Christ. In so doing we become Jewish by adoption just as Jesus was Jewish. And if we are adopted as Jews, we have become God’s chosen people with them. “For in this hope we were saved”. This gives us the Spiritual motivation we need to be living as if we have the first-fruits of the Spirit. And yet all along, “we wait for it patiently”, knowing all along that it will be worth the wait.

 

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we are to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Romans 8: 26-27)

 

In the same way as having the first-fruits of the Spirit of Jesus causes us to hope for an adoption that we do not yet have, the same Spirit overcomes our human weaknesses. Our inability to measure up to God’s standards set down by and through Jesus Christ is offset by Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection first, and by the first-fruits of the Spirit second. Without the Spirit we wouldn’t know what to pray to God for even if we desired it, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” That’s why God knows our needs before we even ask Him. The Spirit, in turn, “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. There are times when we don’t necessarily know what to pray for, only that we should start praying. This is one of those times. And who are the saints? They are all who worship Jesus Christ as the Son of God in Spirit and in truth, and that means us.

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called, those he called, he also justified, those he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)

 

That first sentence consists of very reassuring words. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him”. God is constantly on our side, so there is no need to worry or fret about what the future holds. As the Bible says, and as Paul wrote elsewhere, “If God can be for us then who can be against us?” God loved us first before any of us loved Him, wrote the apostle John. Now all we have to do is to return that love back to him, and we can start by obeying his commandments. And what are the commandments of Christ?”You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your spirit”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”After all, we have all been called according to his purpose.

 

Obeying Jesus’ commandments is a natural reaction of those who obey these two great commandments of Christ, which “sum up all the law and the prophets”. It is those who answer that call wholeheartedly who will become part of the family of God. That’s why the apostle Paul resounds the adoption theme from back in verse 23. Notice that Paul calls those with the first-fruits of the Spirit “those God foreknew”. We are predestined – Paul’s word exactly – to be conformed to the “likeness of his Son”. This is done so that Jesus would be the firstborn “among many brothers”. The “many brothers” here signifies the Church, which is the family of God here on earth and the Bride of Christ in the book of Revelation.

 

And so now we all know what it is that God has in store for all of us, and it is more than any of us can currently imagine, you can rest assured on that one. All we have to do is to cling to Jesus with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to treat others as we would have them treat us. If we will do these things, we can be predestined to an eternal life with God because we are called, and are therefore justified in the eyes of God and able to stand before Him to be subsequently glorified in our new spiritual bodies. These spiritual bodies with their inherent immortality will be the payoff of having the first-fruits of the Spirit. This will be because we have been adopted into the family of God where we shall have many brothers and sisters. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like an excellent way to spend eternity. Next week we will finish up Romans chapter eight. Shalom!

This week’s ongoing Biblical study series will be Romans chapter 5

Grace and Faith In Christ Explained Like You’ve Never Heard It

[Romans chapter five]

real truth
Today’s study will be Romans chapter five, in which the apostle Paul goes into a lengthy explanation – fortunately for posterity’s sake if nothing else – of the death and resurrection of Christ, and how it directly applies to us all, even those who do not yet believe. With respect to the length and scope of Paul’s writing, I will skip the introduction this one time and plunge directly into this insightful passage of Scripture, beginning at verse one.

 

“Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by his Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more will we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5, verses 1-11)

 

Our faith in Christ justifies us in God’s sight because no man or woman who ever lived could ever do so on their own merits no matter how hard they tried. Our belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is credited to us as faith by God just as Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Faith, then produces the grace of God, which empowers us and propels us to supernaturally live for Christ. One of the ways he can make us capable of this is to allow each of us to run into at least a little turbulence from time to time to keep us on our toes. Just as those in the military and law enforcement go through additional training and drills, God allows us to have challenges in our lives in order to build us up. He strengthens us by having us go through negative experiences in order to extract a positive result. “… we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”. Our sinful natures – and everybody has this in one form or another – keep us separated from God. And so it is only through our reconciliation to Christ that we can have peace with God. As the verse says. “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope”. This hope that is produced by our character development is how our faith is generated. Our faith, in turn, is what justifies us before God (that and our belief in Jesus). The more developed our Godly character becomes, the closer we become with God through Christ Jesus. They are all proportional to one another.

 

God has poured out His love into our hearts by His Holy Spirit, whom He has given us… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Like grace, which is the unmerited favor of God, God has also given us his Holy Spirit, which is the living Spirit of Christ. If someone sees a ghost, they see the apparition of a dead person. But the Holy Spirit is very much alive, vibrant, and penetrating all the way down to the very soul of every living person on the earth. This happens whether anyone believes in it or not. Their disbelief changes nothing. The Holy Spirit is present everywhere all the time, and this free gift is like God’s stamp of approval on the foreheads of all sincere and diligent worshipers and believers.

 

Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” When Jesus Christ achieved eternal life by raising from the dead on the morning of the third day, we all achieved eternal life with him, just as Jesus prophesied, “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me”. We are all justified before God by the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for everyone who has ever lived. This means that we will be shielded from the wrath of God that is directed at those who refuse to believe in Jesus and what He did at the cross of Calvary. Our belief in Jesus will give us immortality that is not achievable in our present form. And not only so, but we are happy about it beyond words! Now we know that our lives in their current form are only temporary, and so we should begin to look at life that way. It helps to put all the negative things into context relative to what Jesus did for us by his crucifixion, death and resurrection on the morning of the third day. Nothing can take that away from us, and so we gain a more positive perspective of our lives and the people and situations that lie therein. Make no mistake about it, this is very powerful stuff! And now let’s move on to the second half of today’s study, beginning at verse 12.

 

“Therefore, just as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was the pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through that man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5, verses 12-17)

 

For if the many died by the trespass of one man”, refers to Adam. When Adam and Eve committed original sin and got themselves banished from the garden of Eden, that same original sin was passed down to all their descendants (the actual story takes place in the book of Genesis, we’ll study that another time). God’s solution for this was the sacrifice of Christ Jesus upon the cross, followed by His resurrection on the morning of the third day. “…how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came from the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Right here is where the apostle Paul gives us the good news about Christ’s salvation served on a silver platter. If the sin of one man brought so much wrath from God, then how much more will the Son of God himself bring us his gift of salvation by his unending grace, just as it explains in the following sentence: “the judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift involved many trespasses and brought justification”. Here the “gift” is once again the salvation of Christ, pouring Himself out as an offering on God’s sacrificial altar for all of us. God did all this for us to cover up our imperfections, inadequacies and shortcomings that separate us from God. God loves us so much that He does this for all of us just to bring us closer to Him.

 

Paul sums it all up in the following sentence. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in the one man, Jesus Christ.” If death reigned through Adam and Eve, how much more will eternal life rule and reign through Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul is comparing the original man, Adam, to the new man who is Christ. He is contrasting original sin which Adam and Eve did commit just prior to being expelled from the Garden of Eden, to Jesus, the originator of the salvation that saves us all and grants us eternal life with him. The supreme sacrifice of Christ on the cross saved everyone from Adam and Eve on up to the present, as well as the future – everyone who ever has or ever will live on the entire earth. “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Paul then finished this portion of his commentary when he wrote, “For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through that man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” All of this paragraph can be summarized in a single word – grace. To be brief, grace is what happens to each of us when we embrace our salvation in Christ as we step aside and allow Jesus to take charge of our lives. We receive endless grace when we make Him the captain of our ship. Try this and you will see for yourself. If it works for me then it can for you too. And now let’s conclude today’s study starting at verse 18.

 

“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was the condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign in righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5, verses 18-21)

 

The original sin of Adam and Eve condemned us all, but the blood that was shed on Calvary is what saved us all. “For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous.” This is the very essence of the ministry of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it abundantly”, he wasn’t just talking about having fun and enjoying our lives, even through that does have an importance of its own. He was talking about eternal life in heaven without end, which is the ultimate payoff of the faith that we have kept in Him, just as I wrote at the beginning of this lesson. “… where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign in righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” No matter how evil the times get – and things continue to get progressively worse – God’s grace that is transmitted to us through our complete faith in Jesus acts like a protective shield all around us as we go through each day. No matter how surrounded by sin and evil we are, God’s grace will protect us from harm, and it will take that which was intended for evil against us and turn it around into good. That’s what grace does, but it only works if we practice it. So let’s be sure and practice this all week until our next lesson, where we will be moving on to chapter six. Until then, have a blessed day in the Lord.

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching series will be Romans chapter 2

Obtaining the Approval of God

(Romans chapter 2)

Today we will be continuing our in-depth study of the book of Romans by moving on to chapter 2. Here the apostle Paul continues his train of thought about God’s righteousness, which is infinite compared to that of humankind. He puts forth a word of warning to anyone who would deliberately disobey God and refuse to keep his commandments. So let’s take up where we left off last week starting at verse one.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgments on them and still do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what they have done’. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2: 7-11)

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself…”. This is a clear reference to the Gospel of Christ, which was known back then simply as “the way”. I quote from Matthew’s gospel, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7, verses 1-2) “You who pass judgment”, according to Jesus and Paul, not to mention the other apostles and their co-workers, “do so because you do the same things yourselves”. Otherwise, how would they know? Paul continues with, “…we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgments on them and still do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” This question was and still is aimed at all the hypocrites in the world. Unfortunately for Christianity, the majority of hypocrites today, as it was during Paul’s time, are found in churches (excluding American politics). Anyone who calls somebody out for alleged wrongdoing while secretly doing similar acts themselves are the ones who will receive the most severe punishment when they stand before the judgment throne of Almighty God.

God ‘will give to each person according to what they have done’. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” The Bible quote Paul was using above comes from Psalms 62:12, and it is repeated in Proverbs 24:12. God is God all by himself whether we believe it or not. So the wise course to take is fervent and uncompromising faith. Eternal death is the only alternative. So it’s up to each person to make the correct choice by choosing eternal life over eternal death.

If we persist in doing good, especially when it doesn’t profit us to do so, God sees that and He will richly reward you. If one does not, I implore you that there is still a little time left before Christ’s return. Soon the last opportunities for eternal salvation will be closed to many who refuse to believe. I cannot overemphasize the urgency of this matter. If you haven’t yet come to recognize Jesus as your Savior and kinsman redeemer, or if you have been skeptical in the past, why not ask him right now? Just say, “Dear Jesus, I’m a sinner, and I’m tired of being this way. I want to invite you into my heart so that you may reside there. I can’t fix my messed up life by myself. I urgently need your help. If you will help me with all these things I will serve you for the rest of my life. Amen.” And now let’s continue where we left off.

“There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, …but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good,…”. The phrase “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” refers to the Hebrew viewpoint that they are the descendants of Abraham and Moses, and so by definition they are God’s chosen people. And the Bible does say that numerous times, especially in the Old Testament. But Paul immediately follows that with verse 11, “For God does not show favoritism”. The fact that God does not play favorites is the real point that Paul was trying to make. Bad people will be on the receiving end of “trouble and distress” and “wrath and anger”. There will be no exceptions. It doesn’t matter what you have done that is bad, there are no degrees of evil in God’s sight. You’re either doing wrong or you’re not. On the other hand, there will be “glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good”. In either case it won’t matter who you are, where you are from, or what religion or church you are a member of (or not). The other things that won’t matter include your race, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation or your economic status. God sees right through all of it.

Now let’s bring all this into focus by using a little reasoning. We are all under the salvation of Christ. We are all apostles just as St. Paul was. We are all equals along with the twelve apostles and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. When our lives are over we will inherit immortality just as Jesus did when he rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion. I cannot overemphasize the fact that we are all equals. Equality is therefore scriptural. It’s in the Bible and I just proved it. So, the next time you are feeling down because things aren’t going right (or because things are going badly, and it happens to the best of us), just remember this week’s lesson. It is truly comforting to know that we are equals with Christ (but never with God, to whom Christ intercedes for all of us) and with the 12 apostles (Judas Iscariot was replaced by Matthias) who walked the earth two thousand years ago. Keeping this in mind as we go from day to day helps us all to keep things in perspective. After all, we’re all equals. The Bible says so. Since much of what is written pertains directly to the Jewish nation (do I have any Jewish followers and friends out there? If so, let me hear from you!), I will pick through the most relevant scriptures for this particular lesson starting at verse 12.

“All who sin apart from the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be called righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things that are required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2, verses 12-16)

Paul’s statement that Jews and Gentiles alike can be considered righteous in God’s sight was considered heresy by the Hebrew religious establishment of that time period. This teaching, which I have previously found to be factual, was very radical even by secular standards. But then Paul goes straight to the heart of the matter when he wrote, “it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be called righteous.” So if a Christian honors the Lord by upholding – if not celebrating – the Jewish roots of Christianity by obedience and humility, he or she has done an excellent service to Jesus Christ.

Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things that are required by the law, they are a law for themselves…”. Since this statement was written in the Spirit, and since human equality is Scriptural, we know with the utmost certainty these words are true, pure, admirable and loving. It can also mean that God’s laws always supersede the laws of humankind, and especially if the laws of mankind run contrary to the original law, the Law of Moses, which was dictated and cast in stone by Almighty God himself. Paul continues his dissertation with, “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts…”.

During Paul’s day, over 90% of the population was illiterate, and I believe this was likely what Paul was referring to. But the meaning is inescapable. It’s as if God is saying to his people, “Don’t tell me how goody-2-shoes you are, or how nice your personality is, or that you think you are a good person. You won’t get to heaven when you die just by doing those things. Also, I don’t want to hear about how religious you are, or what denomination you belong to, and especially how much money you give to your church or to charities. These things won’t get you past the pearly gates either. What it is time for you to do is to ask me for purity of heart. Jesus said at the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7), “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”. That’s how we should be every chance we get. And now let’s conclude today’s study starting at verse 17.

“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the Law and brag about your relationship with God.… you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? ….You who brag about the law, do you dishonor the law by breaking the law? …. Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as those who have not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a law breaker. A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2, verses 17, 21, and 25-29)

Whether anyone is Jewish or Christian, if they brag about their relationship with God while continuing in sin, then they are hypocrites. Does the church teach others while lacking knowledge of the Bible? Do pastors give their Sunday sermons without acknowledging their source? Or, as Paul put it, “You who brag about the law, do you dishonor the law by breaking the law?” Male circumcision is a very old tradition, dating back at least 1,500 years before the time of Christ. It’s in the Law of Moses, otherwise known as the first five books of the Bible. But Paul was right when he wrote that, “ A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”

Whether the believer wears a “what would Jesus do” bracelet, or has Christian bumper stickers on their cars, or wears a cross around their neck, outward appearances are meaningless to God. God is not nearly as interested in how much of the Bible one has memorized as he is with the condition of our hearts – our Spiritual condition, so to speak. Such a mans or woman’s praise comes straight from the Lord on an express delivery destined for our very souls. It’s nice to be well liked by others, but this pales in comparison of being blessed and approved by God, which should be the true ultimate goal for our salvation. Let’s keep this in mind this week by doing something for God instead of ourselves. It’s the biggest blessing of all.

Free book excerpt #5 from my upcoming series slated for mid-November release

Signs of the End of the Age (part 1)

(Luke chapter 21, verses 1-19)

by Minister Paul J. Bern

 

Last week when we finished chapter 20 of Luke’s gospel, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ had just left his critics dumbfounded by his response to yet another of their ‘trick questions’. Today as we move on to chapter 21, as they are about to leave the Temple at Jerusalem Jesus makes an observation about the religious practices of that day. We find Jesus, the Twelve, and a throng of his followers moving on from this scene to one that was more private soon after. So let’s begin today’s analysis of Luke chapter 21 at verse one.

 

As he looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth’, he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these other people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’ Some of the apostles were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on top of another; every one of them will be thrown down.’ ‘Teacher’, they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’ He replied, ‘Watch out that you are not deceived, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he’, and ‘The time is near’. Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’ “ (Luke 21, verses 111)

 

As chapter 21 begins, we find the apostle Luke adding yet another shining example of Jesus’ contempt for the rich – those who line their pockets, their wallets and their closets full of as much cash, expensive merchandise and the very finest of everything all the time that they can! As you see from Luke’s testimony, greedy and materialistic people will never see the Kingdom of God, nor will the vast majority of them be able to enter heaven when their lives are over, although there will be at least a few exceptions. The rich tithed their 10% effortlessly. It was no strain on their budget at all. But the poor widow who put the two copper coins in the offering put in all she had. She left the worship service more justified in the sight of God than the person who put in the largest offering that day! God doesn’t honor what we possess. He honors those who give away what they have. It’s exactly the opposite of our world today. Everyone is obsessed with how much they can accumulate, but our eternity depends on the legacy we leave behind.

 

In the following verses, Jesus relates how the Temple at Jerusalem will be torn down, with not a single stone atop another. This actually occurred in 70AD, when the Roman armies conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple there, approximately 37-38 years after Jesus uttered those words. But Jesus’ response to the apostle’s questions about the End Times are telling: “Watch out that you are not deceived, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he’, and ‘The time is near’. Do not follow them.” We have already seen some of this in the last 150 years here in America, with the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses being two of the most prominent examples. The conflagration of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas back in the 1990’s is yet another example, and with horrific consequences. That was, in short, a sign of the impending End Times in which we are living.

 

When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” As before, this is precisely what is occurring today. We have had 2 world wars, with a third threatening to break out over the Korean peninsula, and with Russia and China signing a sweeping military and economic cooperation agreement that effectively forms an alliance against North America. As I have written previously, this new pact between the 2 largest Asian countries will ultimately climax in a preemptive strike on the United States (see Ezekiel 7 & Revelation 18), the exact nature of which remains unknown. I know, I know, this is not exactly a popular thing to say or write, and there are at least a few who have questioned my patriotism over the years. But I’m a man commissioned to speak and write the truth who also happens to love his country and to care greatly about her future. So to me, I would be remiss to fail to warn my countrymen – and the rest of the world – of the dangers that lie ahead. But if we pray and ask God to forgive us for our sins and our country of its sins, and then turn away and repent of those sins, God will hear our prayers, and will forgive us and heal our land. An now let’s move on to the rest of today’s Biblical study beginning at verse 12.

 

Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation; and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.’” (Luke 21, verses 12-19)

 

So we can infer from the first 2 or 3 verses that before the time of the end – when nations and kingdoms rise up against one another and “fearful events”, a possible reference to the atomic age, as well as “great signs from heaven”, such as the total eclipse of the sun that was seen across North America earlier this year, occur – that those who are counted as believers and followers of Christ Jesus will endure considerable persecution for their faith. This is the proof many are seeking as to the timing of the ‘rapture’ of the Church (see 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18 and chapter 5 verses 1-3), but in fact it shows that we will have to endure persecution for our faith, implying that we will all still be here for the first part of the ‘tribulation’ period, the word used in Matthew chapter 24, which parallels this account of the apostle Luke’s. Nobody knows for sure when we are going to be ‘taken up’ by Christ just prior to the last part of the 7-year (see Daniel chapter 9) ‘tribulation’ period in Scriptural prophecy. So this is proof that those who argue in favor of a “pre-tribulation” or a “mid-tribulation” as opposed to a “post tribulation” ‘rapture’ are only guessing at best, and stirring up confusion at worst, within the Body of Believers known as the Bride! This has simply got to stop! Remember what Jesus said to his apostles, “He who does not gather with me, scatters.”

 

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.” This quotation was not talking about the early Christians being fed to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome. Jesus was prophesying about our time, about the here and now! Our faith is going to be tested to the utmost extreme during the reign of the world dictator called the “Antichrist”, as the apostle John calls him (see 1st John 2, verses 18-27). Although a lot of people currently don’t believe this, there will be persecution and even prosecutions of Christians right here in the United States in the not-too-distant future, and Jesus knew that. But God will take what was intended for evil and turn it into an opportunity for those being prosecuted to do some good for the cause of Christ. “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” That’s the good news about this trying time to come from our Lord and Savior himself. None of us will need lawyers, presumably because none will be provided. This can only mean the US Constitution will be suspended at best or done away with at worst, implying martial law or its equivalent. Clearly this will be a bad situation for everyone. But if we prepare ourselves we will fulfill our missions for the Lord, and we will be rewarded accordingly.

 

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” Some of us will have to die for our faith, there’s no doubt about it. The way I see it, Jesus loved us all so much he gave his life for us by dying on the cross. It seems only natural – from a Christian vantage point – to be quite willing to return the favor if given the opportunity to do so. This doesn’t mean we’re all going to have to get ourselves killed to get to heaven, but it does mean we should have as much passion for serving Christ as he did for being our Savior and Kinsman Redeemer. It will cost us some friends and some will find themselves estranged from their families on account of their faith. This is similar to my own life. The family that I grew up with are all Catholics. I am a nondenominational Protestant. I was a foster kid who found Christ later in life (I was in my thirties when I gave myself to Jesus in 1992), I have had no contact with them since, and I’m OK with that. They know where I live if they want to contact me. So if you are a person who is estranged from your family for religious reasons, or if you have no family for whatever the reason, take heart! You have gotten God’s attention because it’s people like ourselves who make the best servants. Having ‘lost’ our families, we are all now part of the ‘family of God’, the largest one of all! And next week we’ll explore the 2nd half of Luke chapter 21.

 

Signs of the End of the Age (part 2)

[Luke chapter 21, verses 20-38]

 

Last week when we left off at verse 19, Jesus was explaining to his apostles what would occur during the End Times, or “end of the age” as the apostle Luke puts it. Christ goes on to state that no matter how bad things get during that period, up to and including persecution for our faith on a global scale, “…not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” I sure hope everyone will take our Lord and Savior’s advice, because if we do, the “life” Jesus spoke of is a life without end. The life we gain by following Jesus Christ and his teachings, then, is an eternal one that goes to infinity. Today as Christ continues his explanation to the Twelve, he elaborates further on the events of the End Times, and what they should expect to occur. Notice that Jesus explains the End Times to the Twelve as if they would all live to see it, although all but 2 were martyred for their devotion to Christ and his Gospel. The first was John, “the apostle who Jesus loved” as John’s gospel often calls himself, and rightfully so. The apostle John died of natural causes roughly 2 years after he finished writing the Book of Revelation around the years 89-90AD. The second was Judas, who needs no explanation. So let’s take up where we last left off starting at verse 20.

 

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint in terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21, verses 20-28)

 

Let’s recall what our Lord and Savior said back in verse 6: “Not a single stone will be left upon another. Every one will be thrown down.” ‘This temple that everyone is so proud of and which everyone reveres will be utterly demolished’, is how Jesus’ statements would read in 21st century vernacular. As I wrote in last week’s lesson, Christ was referring to the military conquest of Jerusalem in 70AD, which was over 3 ½ decades into the future at that time. The “armies” Jesus spoke of were of the Roman Empire, which was at its peak during the time of Christ. “For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” This was God’s retribution to the Jewish people for their handing his Son over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. God allowed the Roman armies to overrun Jerusalem as payback for what the Jewish religious establishment did to the Son of God. The Greater and Lesser prophets of the Old Testament wrote volumes about it, just pick it up and read it for yourselves. The book of Isaiah would be a good place to start.

 

There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The “times of the Gentiles” consisted of the time from the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70AD – including most of what was the Hebrew nation back then – up until 1917, which was the year of the Balfour Declaration which laid the groundwork for the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in May 1948. So for a period of 1,847 years, the ancestors of the Jewish people who handed Jesus over to be crucified – to have the Son of God executed like a criminal – were scattered across the face of the earth without a home. So we can conclude from this that “the times of the Gentiles” were fulfilled on May 14, 1948, when the nation of Israel was formally chartered by the United Nations. “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” This statement describes our present situation with startling accuracy. We just had a total solar eclipse all across North America this past summer (2017), and many have expressed a growing concern – myself included – about rising sea levels and the other effects of climate change, with flooding of coastal areas becoming more commonplace.

 

Men will faint in terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Something really big is going to happen, something unprecedented. This is a possible reference to what had not yet been written – what we now call Revelation chapter 6, otherwise known as “The Sixth Seal”, verses 12-16: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sack cloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from their place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks in the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”

 

So men – and presumably women, children and the sick and elderly – will literally be falling out left and right in sheer terror. Some will merely faint, others will scream in horror, while others will die from heart attacks and strokes right where they are standing or sitting. The cloud of dust and debris from this global earthquake will be thick enough to blot out the sun, moon and stars. “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Notice that a whole lot of really bad stuff has to happen before our ‘redemption draws near’. So all the stuff being said on “Christian TV” and in “prosperity gospel” churches about the so-called “pretribulation Rapture” doesn’t pass the ‘smell test’ as far as I am concerned. Verses 15 and 16 prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Only after certain things have occurred can we be finally redeemed, and not before! On that note, let’s tackle the second half of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 29.

 

He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’ Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each night he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.” (Luke 21, verses 29-38)

 

Oftentimes throughout the Four Gospels Jesus used trees as symbols for the Church – or more accurately the Bride – as well as for the times and seasons. But our Lord and Savior sometimes used the fig tree as a symbol for the future nation of Israel, whose formation was still approximately 1,885 years into the future at this particular point. “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” From a modern perspective, this can only be interpreted as Christ telling us that once Israel rises again, the return of Jesus Christ to rule the earth for 1,000 years cannot be far away. In the following verse, Jesus gets more specific and more mysterious: “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The words “this generation” meant all those present with Jesus at that time. As before, he was still referring to the military conquest of Jerusalem some 37-38 years into the future. But as we now know, all but a handful of the apostles had been martyred for their preaching and their faith by the time that occurred. John and Paul were likely still alive, Judas committed suicide, but I’m fairly sure all the rest were gone by then. So, many in that generation passed away beforehand – did that make Christ a liar as some naysayers insist? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’, due to a mistake in some of the translations, not the least of which is the revered King James Bible. “Generation” meant ‘age’ or ‘era’, meaning the era of the Gentiles that Christ mentioned back in verse 24. The difference is subtle but still quite significant.

 

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” In modern vernacular this simply means, ‘Do not allow yourself to become distracted by anything. Distraction can be deadly. Distraction in the End Times will be lethal’. According to my Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘dissipation’ means drinking or doing drugs to excess just to have something that’s fun to do. Excessive partying, drugging and binge drinking, which leads to addiction, is sinful for this very reason. Those weighed down with “the anxieties of life” should rely on their faith in Christ instead of substance abuse to get them through life’s trying times, and there are plenty of those to go around. “Be always on the watch, and pray you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Jesus could return at any time, nobody knows for sure. As he said in Matthew 24, verse 36, “No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Watch and pray daily, everyone. Because the ‘coming of the Lord’ can just as accurately be portrayed as the end of one’s life, and nobody knows when that is either, including myself. That’s something for everyone to pray about daily over the next week, and next time we’ll move on to chapter 22.

 

Free book excerpt from this fall’s release of a new set of titles by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Coming this October from Author & Web Minister Paul J. Bern — “The Social Gospel Series”, which is an extensive and very detailed series of Biblical studies Volumes 1 and 2. This week’s excerpt is part 2 of Luke’s gospel chapter 3, taken from volume 1 of the series titled “The Apostle Luke”. Volume 2 consists of the writings of the apostle Paul, and these two will be released together as a set. Work on volume 3, the writings of the apostle John, will begin in early 2020.

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John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus

[Luke chapter 3, verses 15-37]

This week we will be studying the 2nd half of chapter 3 of the apostle Luke’s gospel, which will include a minor detour into the gospel of Matthew. I am adding this to today’s Biblical teaching because I think it’s necessary in order to better understand why John the Baptist became the last Old Testament prophet and the very first martyr for Christ in the New Testament all at once. I will explain more about this as we go along, so hang in there while we enter into the remainder of Luke chapter three. We’ll begin at verse 15.

The people were all waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” (Luke 3: 15-18)

The phrase “the Christ” is a Greek word for “messiah”, which translates into Hebrew as ‘salvation’ (the Hebrew pronunciation is “Yeshua”). I find it noteworthy that John could have told the people he was the Messiah and could have profited greatly. Yet he chose not to do so. It apparently made a deep impression with those who came to see him and be baptized by him, and that positive indication of his character and integrity reverberates throughout Christianity to this day. But then John mentions two different baptisms, which is explained in the gospel of John chapter 3, where Jesus was responding to Nicodemus, and I quote: “…’I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born again when he is old?’, Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely a man cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth ,no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the water and of the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’” (John 3: 3-6)

Further down in this same chapter, Jesus clarifies what he was trying to explain to Nicodemus, who held a high-ranking position as a religious leader of that day. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in God’s one and only Son.” (John 3: 17-18) I see no way this passage of Scripture could be misunderstood! If you truly and sincerely believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, you will be saved, or more explicitly your soul will be redeemed, when your physical or temporal life is over. Anyone who refuses to believe, or who places their faith in something other than Jesus Christ for their soul’s salvation, will be condemned at the end of their physical or temporal lives. Period, end of story, and there will be no exceptions! So, everyone who reads this has been warned! Belief in Jesus, combined with the practicing of our faith, is very serious business!

In the same way John warned all the people, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John was talking about the conversation I mentioned between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a Jewish rabbi. The only thing is, that conversation had not yet taken place. Talk about being spot-on with prophecy! This is one way we can tell that John the Baptist was an authentic prophet. There was nothing phony about him! John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with fire on the day of Pentecost, which is not mentioned in the Bible until much later in Acts chapter two. John prophesied this more than 3 decades before the fact!

But what did he mean by “the thongs of his sandals”? Someone reading the Bible from beginning to end would not have that question answered until that individual gets to the story of the Last Supper, where Jesus washed the feet of his apostles as an act of humility, and to set a good example for all generations to come. Back then people wore sandals because there were no shoes like we have today. That technology had not been invented yet as far as I know. So people’s feet got really dirty, and foot washing was a sign of being welcoming and accommodating for visitors. This was work that was usually done by slaves, a clear indication of John’s awareness that Jesus, the one to follow him in prophecy, was the true Messiah. It is also further evidence of John’s humility and of his reverence for his cousin, Jesus Christ.

“’His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” A winnowing fork is similar to a pitch fork except it’s shaped a little different, and it was used for wheat rather than for straw, although it may have been used for both. ‘Chaff’, of course, is the byproduct of wheat processing as we would call it today. John describes the chaff being burned up with ‘unquenchable fire’, which is a metaphor for those who are condemned like Jesus mentioned in John chapter three. “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” John exhorted and encouraged those he baptized to live their lives as those who were being saved by the Messiah, like a good coach, while warning them of the consequences if they did not. Bearing that in mind, let’s move on to the second part of today’s lesson.

But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodius, his brother’ wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He had John locked up in prison. When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph….” (Luke 3: 19-37)

What was the apostle Luke referring to here? As I explained back in chapter one, Herod the tetrarch was the ruler of what was then called Judea, which is in the general area of Israel’s West Bank territory today. Herod has an affair with Herodius, his sister-in-law, as it is documented further in Matthew’s gospel chapter 14, verses 1 through 12, and I quote: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodius, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: ‘It is not lawful for you to have her’. Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodius danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give him whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’. The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that his request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”

As you can see by reading in between the lines, this was a really sick and despicable bunch of people who were in charge of ruling Judea. When king Herod heard about Jesus, he thought people were seeing John the Baptist, and that he had risen from the dead. Why did Herod think this? He had a guilty conscience because he had John beheaded. Like any good prophet, John had pointed out the evil that Herod was engaged in, which was his affair with his sister-in-law. This ultimately cost John his life. One night while John was languishing in prison, king Herod had a birthday party. I can only speculate on how much everyone had had to drink, but you can be sure it was quite a bit, and Herodius’ teenage daughter evidently had helped herself to no small portion of the wine. At some point she apparently performed the equivalent of a table dance for the king, except the king soon found out there was a very high price tag that went along with her dance that Herod apparently loved so much.

As you read, when Herod told Herodius’ daughter to name whatever gift she wanted for the lewd dance she had performed for king Herod, the price was the head of John the Baptist on a platter. As you have similarly seen, this was a really twisted group of people. The prophet John gets his head cut off, and the severed head is delivered to Herodius’ daughter, who gives it to her mother (“mommy, here’s the severed human head you wanted”). So there is the background for this story within a story in Scripture, and this is how John became a martyr for Christ. I also say that there is a time coming, which for some has already arrived, when some of us may have to pay the ultimate price for our own faith. But don’t be discouraged, because that ultimate price is immediately followed by the ultimate payoff for that investment, which is eternal life with Jesus our Lord and Savior. The true scope of that payoff is so great as to be beyond our wildest dreams or our most elaborate imagination!

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” There is no avoiding the symbolism here! The water baptism and Spirit baptism of Jesus occurred all at once. This can happen with new believers too, I have met a few of them, although this was not my own experience. My experience was that there was a 16 year gap between my water baptism and my Holy Spirit baptism. I can truthfully say here that I don’t know why this was what it was, but God works in different ways with all who believe so that he can achieve his perfection through those who become one with him in Spirit!

From here onward, Luke chapter 3 devotes itself to tracing the genealogy of Jesus from his earthly father Joseph (“He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph….”) all the way back to Adam, and so back to God. Since this is rather lengthy, let me just ask the reader to give these last 13 verses of Luke chapter 3 a quick read on your own time for the sake of brevity. Along the way, certain people are mentioned who are prominent in the Old Testament (or the Law of Moses if you’re Jewish), such as the fact that Jesus claims King David, his son Solomon, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from before that, all the way back to God the Father, as his direct ancestors. The point Luke is making here is that Jesus is unquestionably and without a doubt the Son of God. This is an indisputable fact that the Bible proves right here, right now. And we can all take heart in that fact, that our worship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God will never be in vain. On that note, I think we’ve reached a comfortable place to close, and next week we’ll move on to chapter four.

“The Social Gospel Series Volumes 1 and 2”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern will be on sale this October on my website at https://www.authorrevpauljbern.com