The roots of the continued conflict in the Middle East, the Scriptures, and the achievement of a lasting peace

The True Origins of All the Fighting in the Middle East Turn Out to Be One Gigantic Family Feud

(Romans chapter 9, verses 14-33)

Last week as we left off at verse 13, Paul the apostle was addressing some concerns to the early Roman church regarding the separation of Christian believers and their Jewish brethren (and in some cases, family members). This was, in actuality, a culture clash that was occurring at the time Paul wrote these words. I will now present the final 10 verses of this week’s Scriptural study, beginning at verse 14:

 

“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but God’s mercy. For the 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 those whom he wants to harden.’ One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘why did you make me like this’? Does not the potter have the rights to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, 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, verses 14-24)

 

‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ (Exodus 33:19) God chooses those that he sets aside for honor and praise, but he also chooses those who stand against him, because to stand against God means to rely on our human pride and only what matters to ourselves, refusing to submit to God’s will. “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but God’s mercy.” What doesn’t? Our selfish desires, our ulterior motives, and all our little schemes and manipulations that we hatch on others we dislike. We can obtain neither eternal salvation nor the forgiveness of sins by our works alone, or by our words and deeds, whether they are good or bad. Recognition of God’s grace and of the shed blood of Jesus Christ are what saves us. Refusal to believe these established facts are what condemns us. I can’t make it any more plain than that.

 

Then why, Paul wrote, does God still blame people when they sin, and why does the guilt remain? And, who are we to talk back to God making demands as to why he has made us as he has? People who make this mistake, and it can be a very serious one, are forgetting who is God and who isn’t. Let’s not go there, people. Remember to keep your eyes on the prize! What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known… – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” God has shed his grace upon us through Jesus his only Son so that the riches of his glory could be made known. The glory of the Son, in turn, is then made known through us, his adopted children. Since Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish carpenter, his salvation is equally available to Gentiles and Jews on an equal basis. So now you know why we’re all family members. And now let’s conclude this study of Romans chapter 9, starting at verse 25.

 

“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, ‘it will happen in the very place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people’, they will be called ‘Sons of the Living God’. Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelite’s will be like the sand by the sea, only the 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 have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah’. What shall we say, then? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. And why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’.” (Romans 9, verses 25-33)

 

Paul the apostle quotes the book of Hosea chapter 2 and verse 23 to finish making his point to the Roman congregation. “‘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, ‘it will happen in the very place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people’, they will be called ‘Sons of the Living God.” What was Paul talking about? He was referring to Israel’s status as God’s chosen people based on the promise God made to Abraham (see the book of Genesis chapter 15), which was that Abraham would be the “father of many nations” and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the clear night sky. Paul refers to this in the next sentence when he wrote, “Though the number of the Israelite’s will be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”

 

The unvarnished truth here is that not everyone is going to heaven when they die. In fact, there are many out there today who simply aren’t going to make it into New Jerusalem. A disturbing proportion of them will be what the Bible calls “lukewarm Christians” in the book of Revelation chapter 3. It is there that it is written about the church at Laodicea, “I wish that you were either hot or cold. But since you are neither, I will spew you out of my mouth”. That judgment refers to the end times church, which is the present day since the second coming of our Lord is getting close. And if only a remnant of Israel, who are God’s chosen people, will be saved, now many fewer who comprise all the remaining nations excluding Israel will be saved? The answer is, not as many as we have been led to believe by organized religion, who seem to think that only those who belong to their denominations will be saved. It is those very people who are going to be in for a really rude awakening.

 

“… the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. And why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as it were by works.” Right here is where Paul finishes making his point, which is that Jews and all other nations have all become one in the eyes of God. The non-Jews have righteousness, which means to be found without fault but in that case according to their faith, while the Jews who do not believe in Jesus (there are a growing number who do believe) have lost out because they thought they could be made righteous by their works. This teaching was a reference to the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, when in fact that’s not how things work in God’s kingdom. Nobody, whether Jewish or not, can get to heaven and achieve eternal life based only on their good deeds. That is because no matter how many good deeds any one of us performs, we all still have that sinful nature that dates all the way back to Adam and Eve. There is no way we can shake this off of us on our own. Only by placing our unconditional faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ can eternal salvation be attained and our sinful natures overcome.

 

They stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’”. The “stumbling stone” Paul is referring to is none other than Christ Jesus himself. If we trust only in our works or our related sacrifices such as tithing 10% of our income like certain churches teach, that will not get us to heaven in and of itself. But if we humble ourselves before Christ by surrendering control of our lives and placing our complete trust in him, then and only then can we become Jews by adoption in the family of God. When we trust in God, we can never be put to shame so long as we work diligently at this continuously. So here is something we have found that will improve our relationship with our Savior while bringing us ever closer to him all the while. Let’s begin to put this into practice today, and soon you will see just how remarkably effective in your walk with the Lord this is.

 

This week’s ongoing Biblical studies will be part 3 of Romans chapter 8

We Are More Than Conquerors Through Christ

(Romans 8, verses 29-39)

Last week we discussed Romans chapter 8 up to verse 30. This week, to put things into their proper context, we will start at verses 28-30 from last week’s study to maintain the continuity of what the apostle Paul was trying to communicate with us. The words flow with the living water that embodies the risen Lord as follows:

“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.”

Paul starts out by stating the obvious. “In all things God works for the good of those who love him”. This is something we can count on in this life, the idea of God being perpetually on our side. However, let’s not forget that this is on the condition that we remain faithful to the commandments of Christ (“If you love me, obey my commandments”). Jesus has already committed himself to us 100% by allowing his own crucifixion and death which paid the penalty for all our sins. The penalty he paid on our behalf was the conquest of death, which our Lord also conquered by his resurrection, which gave us access to the same eternal life that our dear Lord Jesus has. After building on this idea in verses 29 and 30 Paul then takes it to its logical conclusion both intellectually and Spiritually starting in verse 31.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’.” (Romans 8:31-36)

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Since God has already offered up Jesus as a living sacrifice for us all, will He not graciously give us whatever else we ask for? It is a waste of time for any Christian to be worried, threatened or intimidated by anything – anything at all! God is already on our side. Why be fearful when it’s pointless to be so? This is not what God intends for our lives to be like. He wants us to lead lives that are empowered, enriched and filled with Spiritual meaning and significance. Who can bring any charge against such a believer? Who can condemn us if it is God who justifies us? Jesus is interceding for us constantly at the right hand of God. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Can personal trouble or economic hardship separate us from the love of Christ? Can persecution due to social rejection because of our Christianity diminish the love of Christ?

You know, you can never truly be alone when you have Jesus on your side. Can we be separated from the love of God by a lack of food or clothing? Real Christians don’t worry about having enough of life’s essentials, as it is written with the very words of our Lord Jesus, “See the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin. And yet I tell you that even King Solomon in all his riches was clothed like one of these”.(Matthew 6, verses 28-29) Won’t God also graciously give us all things when we pray earnestly and sincerely for them as Paul the apostle has written? That’s why worrying is a waste of precious time. Can imminent danger from a weapon separate us from Jesus? No, because no threat can deprive us of God’s love no matter how dangerous it is. As it is written in the book of Psalms 44 and verse 22, “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Just as Jesus sacrificed himself for each of us, so we all find ourselves chewed up and spit out by the world that surrounds us. When this happens, and it will, we are to count that as a blessing because circumstances that are beyond our control caused us to emulate Christ whether we were consciously doing so or not. How did we emulate him? By allowing ourselves to be targeted by the world and the things thereof, making ourselves vulnerable in the process even as Jesus made himself vulnerable before Pontius Pilate. Paul then finishes this train of thought in the next 3 verses of Scripture. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 37-39)

We are more than conquerors though Jesus Christ because God made us that way. He has predestined us to be more than conquerors because we are called, called us because we have been justified, and subsequently glorified us because we are justified in the eyes of God through Christ Jesus. And how are we justified? Because Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us continuously. Remember that old song by Diana Ross and the Supremes, “ain’t no mountain high enough, no valley low enough and no river wide enough to keep me away from you”. I regard this as a healthy way to look at God, and we can be sure that we are His forever, as it is written, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John chapter 10, verses 27-30)

There is nothing in the entire universe that can separate us from God. In fact, death actually unites us with Christ. That’s why the fear of death is eliminated by true belief in God through Jesus Christ. In real Christianity death is a time of transition, not an end of all things as we have known them. In the same way, present circumstances over which we have no control can’t come between us and God, nor can future occurrences that we cannot foresee, because God foresees all things. Neither angels nor demons can come between us and God unless God allows it (see the Book of Job). This is great news because it makes us realize that though we may be completely surrounded by evil, God’s love for us – and Divine protection – remains undiminished. Circumstances such as being in captivity can’t separate us from the love of God either. No matter how isolated we may seem to be, Jesus is right there beside us as He intercedes for us to his Father in heaven. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God that is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.

So now you have had a practical lesson in maintaining a positive mental attitude from a Spiritual vantage point. By keeping things in their proper perspective we become empowered to live a life that is predestined to be in harmony with God. We are predestined because we have been “called according to His purpose”. We are therefore justified because we are called, and we are already glorified for the life to come before our present lives are even over. This is really great news for all true believers because we can find favor with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Never again do we need to worry about the outcome of circumstances beyond our control because God is on our side, and He will always be there for us.

So now we are better equipped than ever before for a life that is justified and glorified before God through Jesus our Lord and Savior. Let’s all start living this empowered and victorious life today so we can enjoy the benefits of being called by God. We truly are more than conquerors because through Jesus we have overcome all the adversity that life has to offer. Jesus died and then rose from the dead just so we can have this kind of a victorious eternal life through Him. And this victorious life can be ours on a continuing basis. All we have to do is to humble ourselves and ask for it. That’s the best news of all. Ask God today for this kind of life. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we have done. He can’t wait to grant your request.

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching series will be part 1 of Romans 6

Eternal Life Through God’s Grace

(part 1) (Romans 6, verses 1-14)


This week we will take up where we left off last week in our complete study of the Book of Romans. As you recall from the end of chapter five, the apostle Paul was in the process of giving a detailed explanation of grace through Christ, the renouncing of sin in our lives, and our aspirations of becoming more Christlike as we mature in the Lord. In today’s terms this means we work daily towards becoming kinder and gentler people. Paul wrote, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man were many made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will remain righteous.”

 

In the real world, when you have Jesus in your heart it doesn’t matter where you are from, where you have been or what you have done. What is in the past stays in the past. It doesn’t matter whether you have sinned a few times or many times, or to what degree you may have done something wrong in your past. Even if it’s the worst thing you can think of, Christ died for that sin so that we wouldn’t have to.

 

That’s why I point out that the Bible says we believers already have eternal life in our dear Lord Jesus. It doesn’t matter what we have done, because Jesus died and rose again for all our transgressions. But this statement goes further than that. We aren’t just cleansed from unrighteousness, but “the many will remain righteous”. This is not a one-time occurrence, this is ongoing and working full time. So long as we continue to believe in God through Jesus Christ and obey His commands, we can remain righteous in His sight. Paul then adds this clarification starting at verse one of chapter six:

 

“What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him in baptism unto death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we may also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once and for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:1-14)

 

If God’s grace abounds to cover up sin, should we sin even more to get more grace? No way! “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” When we put aside our old ways and old habits, we put sin out of our lives permanently. As we mature as adults we put our childish ways behind us, understanding that this is for our own benefit. It is unhealthy to hold on to the mistakes of youth because it keeps us from functioning and growing in a mature way. The same thing goes for all our imperfections, shortcomings and inadequacies that make up the sin that exists in everyone’s life, and that includes my own. No one can measure up to God. So we bury those imperfections as a way of making ourselves worthy of being called God’s children in the same way that Jesus was buried after He was crucified.

 

We were therefore buried with him in baptism unto death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Just as Christ was buried and resurrected so that we could all have eternal life in and through Him, so in the same way we bury our old ways, the ways of the past, in order to have a new life through Jesus Christ. “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” This is the best news of all! We can stay in our old ways and stagnate, or we can be united with Christ in His resurrection so that “we too may live a new life”. There is nothing difficult about this so long as we keep ourselves focused on Jesus Christ. Find a way to live a new life through Christ. Bury your old ways, the ways of the past, and get raised from the dead to live a new eternal life by embracing Jesus.

 

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we may also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once and for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” Jesus was only crucified once because that’s all that was necessary. That’s why I am sometimes puzzled over certain churches that have “revivals”, as they are called. We are already risen with Christ. So why do we need revival, excluding those who have strayed away from Jesus and realized their error? (that ‘revival’ could turn out to have a very small audience!) Even while our bodies are slowly dying, our spirits and souls are already raised to eternal life just as Jesus was – and who will be forever and ever. So let’s all acquire the resurrection of Christ by simply stepping forward and staking our claim. And, let’s take this faith of ours in Jesus’ resurrection for the free will offering of salvation from the risen Christ which truly is free to all. And next week we’ll all convene again for part 2 of Romans chapter 6.

 

 

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.

President Trump’s Possible Impeachment and the 94th Psalm

Our Ridiculous Governmental Infighting,

Particularly the ‘Impeach Trump’ Circus,

and What Psalm 94 Has to Say About It

by Minister Paul J. Bern

It is a feeling of deja-vu throughout the US as we continue to look on in disbelief at all the jockeying for position and politicking that is now occurring in Washington, DC. The Democrats want to impeach Trump, which is all they’ve tried to accomplish since 2016 when they were elected or reelected to public office. Prior to this, for the entire 8 years that Barack Obama was president, the Republicans were trying to have him impeached. So Congress has spent the last ten+ years trying to get the opposing party’s president thrown out of office while the country’s business has been left unattended.

Let me point our before I go any further that this posting is apolitical. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2016, and I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton either. So this posting isn’t about the Trump presidency or American politics, it’s about applying a sense of morality, decency and humility to the political scene, not just in the US, but globally. But this sense of morality, decency and humility needs to start with the US since we are (allegedly) the leading country in the world. How can we as Americans make such a claim when we are the world’s #1 source for wars, weapons, and pornography, in no particular order? Based on that alone, I would say America has fallen from grace as far as God is concerned.

The prophets of old, whose word is still just as good as it was thousands of years ago, had quite a bit to say about this. Governments that oppress the people at home while waging military campaigns abroad that have killed millions since the end of World War 2, are in danger of final judgment, and this does not bode well for America. Let me share what the prophet David said and wrote about these issues about 3,000 years ago from the 94th Psalm. “1) The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth. 2) Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. 3) How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? 4) They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting. 5) They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance. 6) They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless. 7) They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.’ 8) Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise?” (Psalm 94, verses1-9)

OK, let’s break this down one verse at a time. Verse 1 says, “The Lord is a God who avenges.” This means he is a God who upholds the weak and vulnerable, the widow and the orphan, the alien and the homeless, and the sick and disabled. It is the rich who are taking all of the above groups of people to court, or causing some of them to become homeless, knowing full well the poor people (and there’s a lot of us these days) don’t have the means to put up a meaningful and robust defense. So we can deduce that prison and jail overcrowding are due to rich people locking up the poor. “3) How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? 4) They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting. 5) They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance.” These mega-rich ‘elites’ are proud at how well they have ‘everything under control’ as they micro-manage our lives down to the tiniest detail while they tax us into poverty. Wages are at record lows, with take-home pay running at 1980-like levels, and the tension between those who govern or enforce the rules and the overwhelming majority of the population hasn’t been this bad since the 1960’s. The entire planet is rife for revolt against the rich. It’s called ‘economic inequality’.

6) They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless….” They slaughter the most vulnerable people because they are the easiest to kill. Our police officers shoot down black teens in the streets who are already growing up without fathers to properly guide them. That’s because their fathers fell victim to poverty and homelessness, and they eventually died before their time or were imprisoned during their prime of life. So where are their mothers? Working three jobs so she and her kids don’t have to be homeless. And what about foreigners? We take their kids away at the borders, and in so doing we traumatize both parent and child alike. Such trauma can often last a lifetime. These minions of the government are arrogant and abusive beyond description, as it is written: “7) They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.’ 8) Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise?” God is so fed up with these Hitler-like wannabe’s, who are plundering the earth and its people like we are here only for target practice for themselves.

But if we embrace the Lord Almighty instead of being preoccupied with the world and all its troubles, he will rise to our defense, as it says further down, starting at verse 14: “14) For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. 15) Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it. 16) Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? 17) Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.” (Psalms 94, verses 14-17) In verse 14, we are God’s inheritance since he has made heaven and earth already. He made us last, according to Genesis chapter 1 in the Old Testament 15) Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.” This verse means that the systemic corruption in the governmental and business sectors will be wiped out, and the perpetrators of this scheme will be brought to justice. This means us. This means right now.

16) Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?” The Lord Jesus wants all his true believers and followers to go out there in the world and make a strong statement and a cunning strategic attack against the wicked rich money worshipers, who value their assets more than the human beings who manage them for a pittance of a salary. And now let’s conclude this week’s message from Psalm 94. “20) Can a corrupt throne be allied with you – a throne that brings on misery by its decrees? 21) The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. 22) But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. 23) He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.” (Psalms 94, verses 20-23)

What was King David writing about in verse 20? A “corrupt throne” is exactly how it sounds – governments, businesses and institutions of higher learning as well as religious organizations, whose sole reason for existing is to milk their customers or members for every penny they can collect. You know, just like organized crime, just as it says in verse 21? “The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.” You know, like our courts systems and our military? “22) But the Lord has become my fortress…. (23) He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness….” I would encourage you all to make yourselves like David did. Make God your own private fortress. If the mega-rich can build deep underground shelters, then you can build a shelter that will withstand any attack from any enemy, seen or unseen. Whether you enemies are physical in nature with flesh and blood like yourselves, or whether they are spiritual and invisible, your faith in God can and will save you.

But God doesn’t stop there: God will destroy your enemies for their utterly wicked nature, such as those who impose student loans that can never be repaid so their “clients” (victims) remain buried under a mountain of debt for their entire lives. He punishes the dealerships who sell cars and trucks that wear out before the loans can be repaid. Some of them go out of business, and deservedly so. Criminals, particularly the violent ones, as well as the suit-and-tie crooks at the so-called “Federal Reserve” and on Wall St., usually get their punishment later (such as the current impeachment hearings in Washington) rather than sooner (like drug offenders and car thieves, who face justice relatively quickly). I’m not taking any sides here, I’m just making some observations. God, however, is always on the right side of things. As creator of the universe, it’s God’s prerogative to make sure that justice, mercy and righteousness always prevail. Then he sent us his only Son, Jesus Christ, to seal the deal. And seal it he did, settling these matters for all eternity, and saving our souls eternally in the process.

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 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.

DCIM\100MEDIA

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