Disbelief Can Be Deadly

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. 

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. – Jude 1:5-8 ESV

Jude wastes no time getting to the point of his letter. He has already made it clear that he is writing in regards to a group of individuals who are having a negative impact on the local body of believers. And he describes them as “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 1:4 ESV). Jude isn’t interested in making friends with these people. He is out to expose them for what they were: A danger to the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ. In fact, Jude flatly states that they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Those are serious words that clearly reveal Jude’s disdain for these people and the perverted message they were preaching.

And, having exposed the perpetrators of the false doctrine that had infiltrated the church, Jude provides a wake-up call to all those within the church. He wanted them to understand the gravity of the situation and to recognize their need to resist falsehood at all costs. For Jude, this was all about the issue of belief. Were they going to believe God and take Him at His word, or listen to the lies of those who were preaching and teaching heretical and dangerous half-truths?

To drive home the gravity of the situation, Jude used a well-known historic event: The exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. But what is interesting is that Jude places Jesus in the midst of that Old Testament context, claiming, “Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5 NLT). Revealing his belief in the deity and divinity of Jesus, Jude stresses that it was He who rescued the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But it was also Jesus who destroyed an entire generation of Israelites because they failed to believe the promises of God. Rather than entering into and taking possession of the land of Canaan promised by God to Abraham, the Israelites let their fear of the occupants of the land to replace their faith in God. The chose to disbelieve God and, as a result, that generation died in the wilderness.

Next, Jude brings up the story of the angels who chose to side with Satan in his attempt to make himself god. The book of Isaiah records this event:

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

In his attempted rebellion, Satan was accompanied by angels, who were later cast out of heaven by God. Jude states that God’s fate concerning these rebellious angels was they be “kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6 ESV). Many of these fallen angels were placed in confinement in a place called the Pit or the Abyss. And, as Jude alludes to, the day is coming when they will be released. The book of Revelation associates this event with the 5th trumpet judgment.

He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. – Revelation 9:2-3 ESV

These fallen angels or demons will wreak havoc on the earth, tormenting mankind for five months during the period of time called the Great Tribulation. But Jude’s emphasis is on their current state of incarceration in the pit, because they refused to believe God. Rather than believe in and trust God, they had sided with Satan in an ill-fated attempt be overthrow God. They failed to believe in the power and sovereignty of God. They failed to believe in the judgment of God against all who rebel against Him. And, as a result, they found themselves living in exile from God.

Next, Jude brings up the infamous Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities had become icons for sin and rebellion. They had also become the symbols of God’s wrath against sin. He completely destroyed them and they remain unoccupied to this day. Jude reminds his audience that the occupants of these two large cosmopolitan enclaves had “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (Jude 1:13 ESV). They were wicked beyond belief. Their sin was so eggregious, that God decided to wipe them off the face of the earth. One of the angels who visited Lot in order to rescue he and his family from the cities before their destruction told him, “we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13 ESV). Once again, the issue was one of belief. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not believe in or worship God. And so, God destroyed them. But Peter tells us that God “rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him” (2 Peter 2:7 NLT).

Jude is attempting to drive home the danger of disbelief. Failing to take God at His word can have devastating, even deadly, consequences. The disbelieving Israelites died in the wilderness. The disbelieving angels were locked away for all time, until God chooses to release them during the Tribulation. And the people of Sodom and Gomorrah disbelieved that God hated their sin, and they died as result.

When Jude addresses the topic of belief and disbelief, he is not necessarily talking about salvation. The Israelites who died in the wilderness believed in the existence of God, but they failed to believe the expressed word of God. And it would seem that Jude is attempting to stress the disbelief of these “ungodly” people. He is addressing their actions, not making a sweeping judgment about their salvation. They were guilty of teaching doctrine that was in conflict with the expressed word of God. As we will see, they were guilty of adding to the gospel, something to which Jude and the apostle Paul were vehemently opposed.

This little history lesson by Jude is intended to set the stage for his attack against these false teachers who were negatively impacting the faith of the church. Jude accuses them of “relying on their dreams,” a direct attack on the veracity of their teaching. These men were not teaching the Word of God, but the thoughts of man. Jesus had some strong words for those in His day who did the same thing:

“Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:9 NLT

As a result of their twisting of and adding to the Word of God, the individuals of whom Jude spoke ended up defiling the flesh, rejecting authority, and blaspheming the glorious ones. While all of this has an ominous tone about it, Jude doesn’t clarify what he means by these things. But he will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Blind to the Signs.

1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. – Matthew 16:1-4 ESV

After their brief foray into the Gentile region of Decapolis, Jesus and His disciples returned to Jewish territory. And as soon as they arrived, they were met by a delegation comprised of Pharisees and Sadducees, whose sole intent was to test Him. These two religious sects made up the Sanhedrin or high council of the Jews. Like modern-day Democrats and Republicans, these two groups were diametrically opposed to one another, but they found a common enemy in Jesus. They were willing to set aside their differences and join forces against what they believed was a growing threat to their power and prestige. Jesus was attracting huge crowds with His miracles and message about the coming kingdom. And the jealousy of these religious leaders was growing at pace with His reputation.

At first blush, their request appears somewhat innocuous. They simply asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven, but He saw through their ruse, fully comprehending the motive behind the request. This was not the first time this had happened. Back in chapter 12, Matthew records another instance when the Pharisees demanded that Jesus perform a sign for them. But He had refused. And now, they add a caveat, asking that He perform a sign from heaven. In the Jewish way of thinking, demons could perform earthly signs, which is why they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. But a sign from heaven required the power and approval of God. They could not deny that Jesus did miraculous signs. They were well aware of the many healings He had performed and the had witnessed His power over demons, but they still refused to believe that He was divinely anointed.

In essence, these men were demanding verifiable proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be. They were not convinced and would not be satisfied until He met their criteria for authenticity. But Jesus knew these men would never believe. There was nothing He could do that would change their opposition to Him. They were spiritually blind to the truth. Paul would later describe their sad predicament:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. –  Corinthians 4:4 NLT

There was no sign that Jesus could do that would change the hearts of these men. Their hatred for Jesus blinded them. He had already given ample proof to His divinity, but they had stubbornly refused to accept the reality of His miracles and message. And Jesus had already made clear the issue at hand.

31 “If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. 32 But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. 33 In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. 34 Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. 35 John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. 36 But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, 38 and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.

39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. – John 5:31-40 NLT

These men were experts in the Old Testament Scriptures and they knew well what God’s Word had to say about the coming Messiah. They were fully expecting His arrival, but were unable to recognize Him when He showed up in their midst. Because their hearts and minds were hardened.

14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. – 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 NLT

They could look at the sky and predict the weather, but they were blind to the clear and present signs taking place all around them. They remained unimpressed and unconvinced by all that Jesus had said and done. So, they demanded more. And Jesus gave them the same response He had the last time they demanded a sign.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” – Matthew 16:4 ESV

This time around, Jesus didn’t bother to elaborate on His statement. But the first time they had demanded a sign, He had told them:

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” – Matthew 12:40 ESV

The day was coming when Jesus would die and be buried, remaining in the grave for three days. But He would be raised back to life by the power of the Spirit of God. And news of this miraculous event would spread all throughout the land of Israel. But the Pharisees and Sadducees would end up rejecting this sign as well. They would continue to discount the claims of Jesus and the testimony of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. The apostle Paul would clearly articulate the requirement for salvation.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9 ESV

But even when faced with the sign of Jonah, the Pharisees and Sadducees would remain stubbornly opposed to Jesus. His inexplicable resurrection would do nothing to change their minds about Him because their hearts and minds were hardened against Him. And Matthew simply records: “So he left them and departed.”

Matthew chose to use a very specific word when referring to jesus departure. It is the Greek word, kataleipō, and it can mean “to forsake or abandon.” In a sense, Jesus turned His back on these men, focusing His attention on His disciples and beginning to prepare Himself for His ultimate destiny in Jerusalem.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Danger of Disbelief.

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.

When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. Joshua 5:2-9 ESV

For this passage to make any sense, it requires an understanding of the rite of circumcision, as practiced by the people of Israel. Circumcision was not a cultural rite of passage, created by men, but a divinely mandated sign of their covenant relationship with God. It had been instituted by God and given by Him to Abraham centuries earlier, long before there were any Israelites.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14 ESV

For generations, the Israelites had kept God’s command to circumcise their infant sons, even during the dark days of their captivity in Egypt. Circumcision was a physical sign and tangible reminder to the Jews of their having been set apart by God. They belonged to Him. And it was tied to the covenant God had made with Abraham, promising to make of him a great nation.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham. From one man, who was old in age and married to a barren wife, God produced the nation of Israel. But now, as they stood on the western bank of the Jordan, preparing to possess the land God had promised to Abraham, they faced a problem. The men of Israel were uncircumcised. They were missing the sign of the covenant, the mark of their ownership by God. The generation that had been released from captivity in Egypt had been circumcised, but because of their refusal to enter the promised land 40 years earlier, God had forbidden them from ever entering the land. They all died in the wilderness. And during those days of wandering in the wilderness, a new generation was born. But for whatever reason, outright disobedience or simple neglect, the people of Israel had failed to circumcise their male children. So, by the time Joshua and the nation made it to the land of Canaan, an entire generation of Israelite men were in violation of their covenant commitment to God. Their parents had failed to set them apart through the practice of the God-ordained rite of circumcision. And from the passage, it would appear that not a single male within the Israelite camp bore the mark of circumcision. The rite had been totally abandoned by the people of Israel during the 40 years they had spent wandering in the wilderness.

There is far more going on here than the neglect of a religious rite. The failure of the people of God to keep the command of God reveals the sad state of their relationship with Him. The author of Hebrews provides us with an insightful understanding of what was really going on. He warns his readers to avoid making the same mistake the people of Israel did, when they rebelled against God and refused to enter the promised land.

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. – Hebrews 3:16-19 ESV

Notice that he blames their ban from entering the land on their unbelief. They had failed to trust God, listening instead to the dire reports of the spies who told them of giants in the land. That generation disbelieved the promises of God. They doubted His word. And after having been barred from entering the land, they continued their rebellion and disbelief, choosing to ignore His command to circumcise their sons. And a whole new generation of men made it to adulthood without bearing the sign of the covenant with God. But God was not going to allow them to take another step until they had rectified the problem. So, He commanded Joshua to order the immediate circumcision of each and every male in the camp. It is interesting to note that God had provided them with entrance into the land by making a way for them to cross over the Jordan River on dry ground, and all while they were in their uncircumcised states. He had not required their circumcision before allowing them to cross. God had kept His part of the covenant commitment in spite of their failure to keep theirs. He had allowed them to enter the land uncircumcised, but He would not allow them to remain that way. They would be required to commit themselves to the covenant by keeping God’s covenant sign.

And one of the fascinating aspects of this entire scene is that it clearly illustrates an obedience to and reliance upon God by the people of God. Here they were, standing in the land of promise, surrounded by potential enemies, and the very first thing God has them do is circumcise all their males. This procedure would have left their entire fighting force incapacitated for days as they recovered. They would have been sitting ducks, easy prey to the Amorites and Canaanites who occupied the land. To obey God’s command to circumcise all the men in their camp was going to require trust in God. He would have to protect them while they were in this vulnerable state. But their obedience was more important than any risk to their well-being. God had done His part, now it was their turn.

When the people had stepped out in faith and had circumcised all the males in their camp, God spoke the following words: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9 ESV). The exact meaning of this statement is unclear. It could be that God is simply stating that their willingness to keep His command to circumcise their males was the final phase in their deliverance from Egypt. With that one neglected task now taken care of, the process of possessing the land could proceed unabated. But there is also the possibility that this remark by God was a reference to a fear that Moses had expressed on several different occasions. During their days in the wilderness, when the people had made the golden calf, God had determined to wipe out their generation, but Moses had intervened.

12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” – Exodus 32:12-13 ESV

When the original generation had refused to the enter the promised land, God had threatened to wipe them all out with a plague, but Moses had intervened yet again.

13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, 14 and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ – Numbers 14:13-16 ESV

So, it could be that “the reproach” to which God referred had to do with any future possibility of Egypt or any other nation accusing God of failing to keep His word. Not only were the people in the land, but they were covered by the sign of His ownership. No one could question God’s integrity or impugn His ability to care for His own.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Reap What You Sow.

You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off. – Hosea 10:13-15 ESV

At times, even as believers, we are surprised at the outcomes of some of our decision making. We are somehow amazed that our lies have consequences. We are shocked when our love affair with materialism leaves us struggling with greed, envy, covetousness, worry and anxiety. We wonder why we are so angry, yet never connect the dots to our daily consumption of violence-filled media. We wrestle with lust, but never seem to associate it with the sexually explicit programming that fills our TV screens each and every night.

The Israelites were also oblivious to the cause-and-effect nature of their lives. So God made it clear to them: “you have cultivated wickedness and harvested a thriving crop of sins” (Hosea 10:13 NLT). In other words, they were reaping exactly what they should have expected. No surprises. Just the natural consequences of living their lives apart from God. They had consumed a daily dose of lies about everything. They had been told that God would not punish them for their sins because they were His chosen people. They had been promised that alliances with foreign powers would protect them from destruction. They believed that the gods of pagan nations were anything but false. But while a steady diet of lies may taste good going down and make you feel good for the moment, it will leave you spiritually weak, malnourished, and starving to death. 

Self-reliance and misplaced trust were behind the behavior of the Israelites. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22 ESV). The prophet, Jeremiah, recorded a similar indictment from God against the people of Judah. “My people are foolish and do not know me. They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!” (Jeremiah 4:22 NLT). They thought they knew better than God. They rejected His commands and ignored His warnings. They lived life according to their own terms. They stopped trusting God and, instead, placed their hope in false gods. When things got tough and they found themselves threatened by outside forces, they turned to alliances with countries like Egypt. They refused to rely on God. He had become small, insignificant and insufficient to meet their needs. The God who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and given them the land of Canaan had become too weak to meet their needs. They had long ago forgotten the words of David:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 ESV

Not only did they doubt God’s salvation, they denied His judgment. They really did not believe that they could fall. They were so confident in their status as God’s chosen people, that they believed they were invincible. And yet, they never seemed to recognize the fact that their protection by God was based on their obedience and faithfulness to him. He had warned them that disobedience would bring His discipline. Unfaithfulness would have consequences. So God gave them the bad news: “Now the terrors of war will rise among your people” (Hosea 10:14 NLT). Their army would be impotent. Their alliances would prove useless. Their fortresses and defensive measures would be insufficient. And their false gods would be exposed for what they were: non-existent and, therefore, no help in time of need.

The devastation would be horrific. Referring to a past battle, God warned them that their fall would be brutal and merciless: “as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children” (Hosea 10:14b ESV). The Assyrians were going to show no mercy. Their destruction of the nation of Israel would be complete and no one would escape their wrath. From king to commoner, priest to prostitute, the influential to innocent infants – all would feel the wrath of the Assyrians and the judgment of God.

These kinds of passages make us uncomfortable as believers. They paint a picture of God that seems to contradict our view of Him as loving, gracious, forgiving and merciful. But too often, our understanding of God can become one-dimensional. We prefer to emphasize His love while downplaying His holiness and hatred of sin. We find comfort in His grace, but don’t want to think about His righteous wrath and divine obligation to punish sin. In doing so, we diminish the value of the gift of His Son. But it is in understanding the severity of sin’s offensiveness to God and His just and righteous obligation to punish sin that we fully comprehend the magnitude of what Christ has done for us. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus “was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). The inescapable reality was that “even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2:5 NLT).

Our sin was real. God’s judgment against our sin was deserved. And yet He showed us mercy – in spite of our sinfulness. Grace does not diminish the gravity of sin. It actually reveals the amazing love of God as He provides a means of salvation that is capable of satisfying His wrath against sin. He gave His Son. It was the death of Jesus alone that could propitiate or satisfy the just judgment of God against the sinfulness of mankind. Nothing else would do. No other payment could have been made that would have paid the debt that was owed. So when we elevate God’s love while ignoring His wrath, we actually diminish the amazing nature of that love. He loved us in spite of us, not because of us.

And yet, we continue to sow and reap, sin and suffer, because we don’t fully appreciate the gravity of sin and the greatness of His grace. We justify our actions, rationalize our sinful behavior and then wonder why we reap discontentment, dissatisfaction, anger, joylessness, envy, greed, and immorality. It is an accurate understanding of the grace of God that should produce in us the fruit of righteousness. As God told the people of Israel, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12 NLT).

For Heaven’s Sake.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV

Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.

Cast all your anxieties on God.

Be sober-minded.

Be watchful.

Resist the devil, standing firmly in your faith.

Know that you are not alone in your suffering.

Suffer well, knowing that it is temporary, but that God’s plan for you is eternal.

Sometimes we just need words of reminder and encouragement, because this life can be difficult at times. The promises of God can appear to be so distant and even unrealistic in our daily lives. The peace He promises can seem non-existent. The joy He offers can be overwhelmed by the sorrows of life. The satisfaction He said we would find in Him can leave us feeling, well, unsatisfied. And we can sometimes feel as if His love for us is nowhere to be found, even though He promised that nothing could ever keep Him from loving us. When it comes to our relationship with God, perception is not always reality. How we feel is not always a good indicator of how things really are. What we sense to be the case rarely is. So we need to be reminded to keep our eyes focused on God. We need a gentle nudge to realign our thinking and recommit our trust to God and His Word. And that is exactly what Peter seems to be doing as he wraps up his letter.

For two chapters, Peter has addressed the issue of suffering. It was an everyday reality for his audience. The likelihood of them suffering for their faith was not a matter of if, but when. So he took great pains to discuss the topic with them. It was his desire that they suffer well. He wanted them to keep their focus on the promises of God. That is why he wraps up his letter with the simple admonition: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV). They were to willingly submit to God’s faithful plan for their lives, recognizing that suffering was part of that plan. As the sovereign God of the universe, He was in control of all things. He was well aware of all that was happening in their lives. And He had a purpose for it all. James gave similar words of encouragement in his letter.

But he [God] gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. – James 4:6-10 ESV

Humility is a state of mind, not a condition. It is not to be confused with humiliation. Humility is a mindset that communicates our willing reliance upon a God who is bigger, smarter, more powerful, and far more loving than we could ever imagine. It is an attitude that looks past circumstances and zeroes in on the character of God. He is loving, faithful, all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign over all, and never fails to keep follow through on His commitments. Peter does not deny that we will have anxieties and worries in this life. Those things are natural and normal human reactions to difficulties. But he tells us to cast them on to God. We are to give them over to Him. Why? Because He cares for us. He knows we have doubts. He if fully aware of our fears and apprehensions. He is not blind to our struggles and sorrows. But rather than dealing with them on our own, God wants us to bring them to Him, recognizing that He alone can help and comfort us. Peter is not telling us that God will take away all our problems and pain. He is not promising us that God will eliminate all our difficulties. But he is saying that God is to be our one and only place of refuge and hope.

We have to live in this world with a sober-minded outlook, recognizing that we have a real enemy who is out to destroy us. Jesus warned us about the intentions of our enemy. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). We can’t go through this life with a cavalier or complacent mindset, thinking that everything is meant to be easy and care-free. As believers, we walk around with target on our chest and a real-life enemy who is gunning for us. Which is why Peter warns, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV). So we need to resist him. Paul warned the believers in Ephesus:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 ESV

We are in the middle of a spiritual conflict. It is a real battle with real casualties. And our only hope is our faith in God, trusting in His power and leaning on His promises. The church is under attack all over the world. And where we stand the most vulnerable as individual believers is when we allow the enemy to cause us to doubt, deny, and disobey what God has said. That was the point of attack of Satan in the garden. He said to Even, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). His attack was subtle and sly. He wanted to get her to doubt God’s word. Because he knew that doubt leads to disbelief and disbelief ultimately results in disobedience.

The key to making it through this life is to keep our focus on the life to come. God has called us to “eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10 ESV). That is the ultimate outcome of our faith in Christ. And the day is coming when God will “himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:11 ESV). Yes, we can experience that in some measure on this earth, but the real fulfillment of our hope is the future redemption of our bodies and our final glorification. We have to constantly remind ourselves that our team wins. God is in control. His plan is perfect and unstoppable. We may suffer now, but the day is coming when we will never suffer again. He rules. He reigns. He finishes what He starts. He fulfills what He promises. “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

No Rest For The Weary.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Hebrews 4:1-13 ESV

There is an ominous-sounding warning in these verses. When the author speaks of the people of God not entering the rest provided for them by God, it can’t help but get our attention. But what does he mean when he writes, “those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:6 ESV)? There have been many over the centuries who have tried to equate the crossing over of the Israelites into the land of Canaan with the death of the believer and their entrance into heaven. But if we apply this analogy to the author’s meaning of “rest” we will find ourselves wrestling with the possibility of one losing their salvation. Because he is writing to believers and he is warning them not to make the same mistake as their ancestors in the wilderness. They “heard and yet rebelled” (Hebrews 3:16 ESV). They sinned and their “bodies fell in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:17 ESV). “They were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19 ESV).

That last line is key to understanding what is going on in these verses. The issue is that of unbelief. He warned his readers, “Take care, brothers, lest there by in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). He encouraged them to exhort one another, “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). The problem with equating the promised land with heaven is that the people of Israel had to immediately to battle once they entered the land. They had to strive to possess the land and dispossess the people that lived there. Their time in the land of promise was one of testing, conflict, and a constant struggle to trust God rather than their own resourcefulness. Yes, God blessed them. He gave them victories over their enemies. But because of unfaithfulness, they were eventually evicted by God from the promised land and sent into captivity for their rebellion against Him. That is why making the promised land analogous to heaven makes no sense and eventually breaks down. No one will be evicted from heaven because of unbelief.

So what is the author talking about? What is this rest he warns against not entering? Several times in these verses he refers to the “good news” they had received. “For the good news came to us just as to them” (Hebrews 4:2 ESV). He uses the Greek word, euaggelizō which is the same word used by Jesus when referring to the gospel message He preached. It is the same word used by the angels when they told the shepherds in the field of the good news regarding the birth of Jesus. The author of Hebrews says that the people of Israel had heard the good news, “but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2 ESV). They heard, but they did not listen. They heard, but failed to believe the good news given. They had evil, unbelieving hearts.

Several times in this passage the author refers to the sabbath rest of God. He talks about the fact that God, after having created the universe, rested on the seventh day. The Hebrews word shabbath means “rest.” God was not tired, but he ceased from His labors because His work had been completed. All that He had intended to do had been done. His will had been accomplished. The writer makes it clear that the entering into the land was not the rest that God intended. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later one” (Hebrews 4:8 ESV). In fact, he writes, “there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9 ESV). The issue seems to be that of works verses faith. The rest the author is speaking of is the belief we are to have in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and our complete and total dependence on what He has done for us. We can rest in the sufficiency of His sacrifice. There is nothing more that we need to do. The Jewish audience to whom this letter was addressed had heard the good news regarding Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross, but they ran the risk of hearing, but not listening. They, like their ancestors, were prone to go back to their own methods of attempting to achieve a right standing with God. Rather than resting in the finished work of Christ, they were being tempted to go back to Judaism with all of its ritual and rights. So the author warns them to “strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11 ESV). He is not suggesting that they can lose their salvation, but that their initial “belief” may not have been belief at all. They had not been fully convinced that God’s redemptive work on their behalf was complete. They were not resting in the promise of eternal salvation. They were not trusting in the sufficiency of Christ and the hope of their future redemption.

Jesus did not promise us a trouble-free, peaceful life on this earth. He did say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV). And yet, He told His disciples right before His death, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33 ESV). Our time on this earth is anything but easy. But we can have peace in the midst of the struggles because we know that He has overcome the world. Our rest is found in the promise of His finished work. He is going to some day return and wrap up what He started and complete what God has given Him to do. It is in that fact that we are to find our rest. The temptation for all of us is to doubt God, to fail to take Him at His word. We can look at the circumstances surrounding us and begin to disbelief His promises and question the reliability of all that Christ has done. So the author invites us to allow the Word of God as a divine scalpel to penetrate our hearts and expose and remove those thoughts and intentions of the heart that would cause us to doubt and disbelieve God. He wants us to rest in the reality of our future rest. He wants us to trust in His promise of not only our future redemption, but the final restoration of the world. God’s will WILL be done. And we can rest in that fact.

The Danger of Disbelief.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. – Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV

Reaching back into the pages of the Old Testament narrative, the author quotes from Psalm 95, using the history of people of Israel as a life lesson for his Hebrew audience. The psalmist recounts the story of Israel’s rebellion against God during their journey from Egypt to the promised land. Under the direction of God, they had reached a place called Rephidim, and after setting up camp the discovered, “there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink’” (Exodus 17:1-2 ESV). Moses’ response was to ask them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:2 ESV). But driven by their physical thirst, they demanded, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3 ESV). The people were so angry with Moses that he feared for his life, suspecting that they would stone him. But God told Moses, “‘Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.’ And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Exodus 17:5-7 ESV). That last line is key to understanding the story and to grasping the point that the author of Hebrews is trying to make. Influenced by the negative nature of their circumstances and their own physical desires, they doubted the presence, power and provision of God. This was in spite of all He had done to deliver them from Egypt and secure their freedom from slavery. The miracles of the ten plagues and the wonder of the Red Sea crossing faded into oblivion at the first sign of trouble. Suddenly, their God was no match for their personal problems. And they grumbled. They complained. They revealed their ingratitude for all that God had done. And yet, in the face of their rebellion, God graciously provided them with water – from a rock. The apostle Paul provides with insight into what was going on behind the scenes.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 NLT

The rock was Christ. It was a representation of the mercy and grace of God that would one day be expressed through the gift of His Son. Moses was instructed to strike the rock. The rock was beaten and from it came living water. God provided for them the very thing for which they had grumbled and complained. But while they “drank the same spiritual water,” God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. They never made it to the land of promise, the place of rest. The psalmist clearly portrays the anger of God with those who had doubted His saving power. “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known “my ways.” Therefore, I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (Psalm 95:10-11 ESV).

The letter to the Hebrews provides us with the application. “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ” (Hebrews 3:12-14 NLT). The author is not suggesting that we can lose our salvation. But he warns against having “evil and unbelieving” hearts. The danger the Jewish believers in his audience face is turning away from the saving grace provided by God through Jesus Christ and returning to their old, familiar faith in Judaism. Warren Wiersbe writes, “every believer is tempted to give up his confession of Christ and go back into the world system’s life of compromise and bondage.” Again, this is not about losing our salvation, but missing out on all that God has promised us as believers in this life. By turning away from God and doubting the sufficiency of His Son’s saving work, F. F. Bruce provides with the context: “a relapse from Christianity into Judaism would be comparable to the action of the Israelites when they ‘turned back in their hearts unto Egypt’ (Acts 7:30); it would not be a mere return to a position previously occupied, but a gesture of outright apostasty, a complete break with God’ (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews).

There will always be the temptation to doubt God and return to whatever way of life we lived before. We may even be tempted to try something completely new and different, other than the walk of faith. That is why the writer of Hebrews warns us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). The issue is one of unbelief. That is why we are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’’ (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). We need to encourage one another to keep the faith, to remain committed to the cause of Christ. We must not allow circumstances or our own personal passions to drive us away from God and back to the false promises of this world. We must continue to believe in and rest on the promises of God, in spite of all we see happening around us. As the writer of Hebrews puts it a little later on in this letter, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).

When Christians Become Anti-Christ.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. – 1 John 2:19 ESV

There was a group of former church members who had recently left the fellowship there in Ephesus. Evidently, they had stirred up a bit of controversy with their beliefs regarding Jesus. For whatever reason, they had either had a change of heart regarding the deity of Jesus, or had never fully believed it from the beginning. These people were denying that Jesus was the Son of God and rejecting His claim to have been the Messiah. In essence, they were refusing to accept Him as Savior. They even denied their own sinfulness. As you can imagine, these beliefs caused quite a bit of trouble for the church there in Ephesus. John even referred to the recently departed ones as antichrists. That’s a pretty serious accusation. But his basis for that charge was sound. They were anti-Christ. They were denying the centrality of Christ as God in human form and as the Savior of the world. They were refusing to admit their own sinfulness and, therefore, their need for salvation. All the while, they were claiming to have a right relationship with God. So John called them out and called them what they were: anti-Christ.

But this incident got me thinking. While those who had left the Ephesian church were probably not believers in Jesus Christ to begin with, I began to wonder if it is possible for Christians to be anti-Christ. Can we stand opposed to Christ even if we still fully accept His deity and rest in His role as our Savior and Lord? And the somewhat surprising and disturbing answer is yes. And it is easier to do than you might think. I am reminded of an exchange between Peter and Jesus recorded in the gospel of Matthew. What is amazing about this story is that Jesus had just recently commended Peter for his answer to Jesus’ question: “What do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15 NLT). Peter’s response had been, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT). And Jesus had been extremely pleased with what Peter had said. And yet, not long after this exchange, Jesus began to break the news to His disciples that He was going to be going to Jerusalem where He “would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT). But when Peter heard this news, he “took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. ‘Heaven forbid, Lord,’ he said. ‘This will never happen to you!’” (Matthew 16:22 NLT). And amazingly, Jesus lit Peter up, saying, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT). At that moment, Peter had become anti-Christ. He had chosen to stand opposed to what Jesus had clearly communicated as God’s will and His own intention to follow it. Peter had not liked what he had heard and so he rejected it. He even called on God Himself to forbid it from happening. What struck me in this story is how easy it is for even a believer to become anti-Christ in his or her outlook. Peter’s problem was that he was seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s. He had lacked a divine, eternal perspective. He didn’t like what he was hearing. He didn’t agree with what Jesus was saying. It was disagreeable to his way of thinking, so he disagreed with Jesus. How often to we do the very same thing? We don’t like our circumstances. We don’t agree with God regarding our lot in life. We begin to see everything from our own view point, rather than God’s and, at that moment, we become anti-Christ. We refuse to accept His will for our lives. We refuse to accept His sufficiency for any and all situations. We refuse to accept that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT). Whether we want to admit it or not, we can become anti-Christ, and even anti-Gospel. We can refuse to believe that the gospel, the good news regarding Jesus Christ, also includes our sanctification, our ongoing transformation into His likeness. And sanctification is a process that takes time and is based on faith just as much as our salvation was. When we begin to think that our spiritual maturity is up to us, we become anti-Christ and anti-Gospel. We make it about works and not grace. That does not mean we don’t play a role in the process, but at the end of the day, it is a work of the Spirit, not the flesh. As soon as I think I can make myself more holy, I stand opposed to Jesus’ all-sufficient sacrifice and the Spirit’s indwelling, empowering role in my life. Paul put it this way, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). He lived by trusting in the Son of God. As soon as I stop doing that, I become anti-Christ. I become self-sufficient rather than Christ-dependent. I begin seeing things from my own perspective rather than God’s. And at that moment, I become an ally of the enemy and opposed to the very one in whom I trusted for my salvation. Any time we become pro-self, we become anti-Christ. Which is why Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NLT).

Ezra 5-6, Hebrews 3

The Constant Danger of Unbelief.

Ezra 5-6, Hebrews 3

And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:18-19 ESV

Unbelief is a constant reality – even for the believer. But how can that be so? How can you be a believer and yet not believe? It’s simple. Belief is not just a state of mind, but must always be accompanied by action. In other words, belief must be visibly tied to faith. During the days of Ezra, after King Artaxerxes ordered the cessation of all construction activity on the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews would stop all work for nearly 16 years. In spite of the fact that God had miraculously arranged for their return to the land under King Cyrus, and the king had provided the funds necessary to rebuild the Temple, the people stopped believing. Rather than step out in faith and trust that God would protect them, they simply gave in and shut down all construction. That is, until Haggai and Zechariah the prophets of God stepped in. With the encouragement of these two men of God and the leadership of Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jehoiachin, the people stepped out in faith and began to build once again – even in the face of opposition. They were immediately confronted by their enemies, who questioned by whose authority they had restarted the construction. But rather than give in to the pressure, the people continued to work. And believe.

The news reached King Darius, the new ruler in Persian, that the Jews were rebuilding the Temple, in violation of the decree of his predecessor. But he also received word that the people of Judah were justifying their actions because they had originally been given permission by King Cyrus. A search of the royal records revealed that the Jews were right. A decree had been issued and they were fully in their rights to rebuild the house of the Lord. So King Darius issued yet another decree, providing them with permission to continue and he ordered that their work be paid for out of the royal treasury. Then he threatened death to anyone who tried to prevent the Jews from accomplishing their objective.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The people of God just needed to believe in their God. He had told them rebuild. He had provided the help of a pagan king to make it all possible. The problem came when the people started facing opposition. Doubt began to creep in. And doubt almost always leads to disbelief. Then disbelief leads to disobedience. And disobedience inevitably results in a lack of God’s rest. Throughout the history of the Hebrew nation, God kept trying to prove to His people just how trustworthy He was. He bailed them out time and time again. He provided miracle after miracle. He defeated their enemies for them. He clothed and fed them. He made them a mighty nation. But they continually struggled with unbelief. They lacked faith. They could claim to believe in God, but their actions proved otherwise. And yet, God still wanted to prove His trustworthiness to them. When Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people to keep on building and they obeyed, in spite of the opposition, it was an act of faith. They had no idea how the king would respond to the letter that was sent to him. They had no guarantee that the king would respond favorably. But faith doesn’t dwell on possibilities. It focuses on the God of the impossible. Jesus Himself, said of His Father, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). When faced with a test of his faith, Moses was reminded by God, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:23 ESV). The prophet Isaiah would tell the people of Israel, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1 ESV). God is the God of the impossible. But we must not only believe it cognitively. We must put shoe leather to our belief and act on it in faith.     

What does this passage reveal about man?

The people built. Their enemies accused. The king searched the records. But God had the last say. Their faith to keep on building in spite of opposition resulted in them getting to see the hand of God. King Darius would issue a decree that said, in part, “May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God, that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence” (Ezra 6:12 ESV). Man naturally doubts, and that doubt can quickly turn to disbelief and then disobedience – even for believers. The author of the book of Hebrews, in speaking of Moses, said he “was faithful in all God’s house as a servant” (Hebrews 3:5 ESV). In other words, Moses did what God called him to do. He faithfully revealed God’s law to the people. He faithfully orchestrated and oversaw the building of the Tabernacle. He faithfully led the people, even though they constantly rebelled against him and grumbled and moaned about his leadership. Those people are described in less-than-flattering terms in Hebrews 3. “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?” (Hebrews 3:16 ESV). They provoked Moses for 40 years. They sinned against God by refusing to occupy the Promised Land. They doubted that He could deliver it into their hands. And their doubt turned to disbelief, which led to disobedience, and resulted in them never entering God’s rest. The writer of Hebrews warns us: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). The danger for all believers is apostasy, or falling away from God. He is described as a “living God.” This is not about turning away from a dead, lifeless religion, but from the very active, alive God of the universe.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

When we begin to doubt God, it plants a seed that can grow into full-blown disobedience. Which is why the book of Hebrews tells us, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). The presence of the enemies of God is a constant reality for the believer. The key is whether or not we allow ourselves to listen to their lies and fall prey to their words of intimidation. Or will we stand firm on the character and promises of God. There were many in Moses’ day who were unable to enter into the rest God had prepared for them, because of unbelief. They failed to step out in faith, enter the land, and watch God deliver on His promises. God never said it would be easy. He just said He would make it happen. All they had to do was believe.

Father, I want to continue to learn to act out what I say I believe about You by putting that belief into action. I want to step out and hold on to Your promises. I want to see You work, even when the odds seem stacked against me. Because You are trustworthy and true. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 19-20, John 1

Belief and Obedience.

Numbers 19-20, John 1

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12 ESV

In this section of the book of Numbers, the events have been fast-forwarded, bringing us to the close of the 40 years that God had said the people would spend wandering in the wilderness as a result of their failure to enter into the land of promise. Their disbelief had caused them to disobey, and brought God’s divine discipline. Now they found themselves headed back to the border of the land of Canaan In the four decades that had passed, the older generation had slowly died off. But they had successfully passed on their sinful characteristics to their children. “Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!  Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink’” (Numbers 20:2-5 ESV). For Moses, this had to have had an eerily similar feel to the events that had taken place years before when the people had arrived in the wilderness of Sin. There the people had also complained about the lack of water and God had graciously given them water from a rock. Now decades later, the people are complaining again. Same people. Same God. Same problem. But their problem was NOT a lack of water. It was a lack of faith in God. They believed in God. They knew He existed. They couldn’t deny the reality of His existence. But they could disbelieve the validity of His will for their lives. Notice how many times they question, “Why?”

Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness?

Why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?

They didn’t like their circumstances. In fact, they wished they had died when God had stricken their ancestors with the plague 40 years earlier. They thought they would be better off dead than living in the will of God. It wasn’t that they failed to believe in God. It was that they failed to believe that He knew what was best for them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In the book of John, there is powerful imagery used to convey Christ’s coming into the world. He is portrayed as light and He entered into the darkness of this world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV). “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9 ESV). Light speaks of His purity, truth, and righteousness. Jesus was the Son of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). He was God incarnate – God in human flesh. He was Immanuel – God with us. God revealed Himself to man in human form. The Light of God penetrated the darkness of human sin and hopelessness. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV). And yet, John tells us, the world did not know him. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They couldn’t deny His existence, but they refused to believe that He was God’s will regarding their salvation. Just as in the days of Moses, God revealed Himself to man. He made His presence known, but mankind refused to believe that God knew what was best. Only a handful of people in Jesus’ day seemed to recognize Jesus for who He claimed to be. Andrew told his brother Simon, “We have found ‘the Messiah’ (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV). Philip told Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). Nathanael said to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). God had revealed Himself to men through His Son, and only a handful of individuals seemed to believe that Jesus represented the will of God for mankind.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Belief requires obedience. It didn’t matter how much the people of God said they believed in the Law of God, as long as they failed to obey it. It didn’t matter how much Moses believed in the reality of God if he was unwilling to obey His word. Later on in the gospel story, we know that there came a time when Nathanael, Andrew, Philip and the rest of the disciples were forced to put their belief into action by answering Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. They were going to have to take a risk and obey. If they truly believed He was who He claimed to be, they would need to prove it by leaving everything else behind and following Him – in spite of their doubts and fears. In the book of Numbers, we see Moses having to deal with the disbelief of the people once again. They find themselves lacking water and so they lash out at Moses and question the will of God for their lives. And as He had done before, God miraculously provided water from a rock. He commanded Moses to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV). But instead, “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice” (Numbers 20:11 ESV). Not only that, Moses prefaced his actions with a small speech: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10 ESV). Moses was angry. He was put out with the people. He was tired of their whining and complaining. We get an insight into what was going on in Moses’ heart from Psalm 106. “They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips” (Psalm 106:32-33 ESV). Moses was angry, and in his anger, he failed to listen to what God had told him to do. Rather than “tell the rock,” he struck it. He simply did what he had done decades earlier. But that was not what God had commanded Him to do. He disobeyed God’s command. Yes, Moses believed in God, but he failed to obey the word of God. “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them’” (Numbers 20:12 ESV). Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But God was making a point with Moses and Aaron. Moses’ actions in front of the people, motivated by anger and characterized by a failure to listen to the word of God, treated God with contempt. Moses failed to do God’s will, God’s way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John writes, “He came to his own,  and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13 ESV). Most of the people failed to receive Jesus as the Son of God and their Messiah. They could see Him, but they would not believe in Him. But those who did receive Him and believed in His name, they became children of God. They received the gift of eternal life through the Son of God. They believed and obeyed. They heard the Word and received it. They recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who  takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). Their belief in Jesus as the Son of God took the form of obedience to the will of God. They accepted God’s plan for their lives and willfully submitted to it. It really doesn’t matter how often or how vigorously I claim to believe in God, if I fail to accept His will for my life. It doesn’t matter how vocal I am about my faith in Christ, if I fail to listen to and obey His commands regarding how to live my life. Belief and obedience are to go hand in hand. They are inseparable. Disobedience and disbelief are also inseparable. To disobey is to reveal our disbelief. We doubt God’s will. We disbelieve that He knows what is best. We think we know better. Moses did it his way and suffered the consequences. The people of Israel complained about their lot in life, and in doing so, revealed their lack of faith in God. They failed to trust the One in whom they said they believed. And that tendency is a constant threat for every follower of God today.

Father, I want my faith in You to show up as trust in You. I want my belief in You to reveal itself by obedience to You. Never let me separate those two. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org