Month: October 2013

Obadiah

The Apostle Paul had this to say to the Corinthians regarding events of the Old Testament:

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Corinthians 10: 11

In the immediate context of the passage, Paul was pointing the Corinthians to accounts of unbelief and sin which were punished by God. Here is what he said leading up to the verse just quoted:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 1 Corinthians 10: 1 – 2, 5 – 10

Those examples of God’s wrath on Israel are minor in comparison to the great wrath to come upon the whole world. Of this wrath the prophet Obadiah writes, and his words can be of great instruction to us.

For the day of the LORD draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head. Because just as you drank on My holy mountain, all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and swallow and become as if they had never existed. Obadiah 15 – 16

The wrath of God here is pictured as a cup being poured out; the people are drinking God’s wrath. This prophetic imagery is also used by Jeremiah:

For thus the LORD, the God of Israel, says to me, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it…” Jeremiah 25: 15

The notion of God’s wrath being poured out on the nations is an awful thing. It is not awful in that it is bad, but it is awful in that it is full of awe and wonder. The pure justice of God being poured out on deserving sinners, like never before – not even did Noah’s days see such things – this is truly an awful sight to behold.

Who then can be saved? Who will not reap wrath for the sin they have sown? Who will not be forced to drink the cup of the wine of wrath? Simply, amazingly, wondrously – the only people who will not have to drink of the cup will be those who put their trust in the One who drank the cup for them.

And who drank the cup? Jesus of Nazareth.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”…He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Matthew 26: 36 – 39, 42

The author of Hebrews comments on the account of Christ crying out to His Father in the garden of Gethsemane, saying this:

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety…And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation… Hebrews 5: 7, 9

Shortly after His words in the garden, Jesus was arrested. And then he was mocked and flogged and crucified unto death. On that cross the wrath of God the Father was poured out upon His Son.

How interesting it is, that before Jesus drank of the wrath of God on Calvary, He shared a cup of wine with His disciples. It was not a cup of wrath, but a cup of forgiveness – of covenant forgiveness – of a forgiveness that God promises on oath to all in Christ, and He will never revoke it.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26: 26 – 28

So it is that in the end of days, all people will be given a cup to drink. Many will receive a cup of wrath, fulfilling the words of Obadiah. But there are those who will be given a cup, and a seat, at the banquet table of the Messiah; at the marriage supper of the Lamb. And they will drink of the Lord’s forgiveness forever.

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Amos

One of the hardest things for a Christian to truly understand, having come from darkness and learning to live in the light, is the free gift of salvation offered by God. It is hard to believe that works play no role in our standing with God, other than to condemn us. We cannot be justified before God by our works – this is a clear New Testament teaching:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Romans 3: 19- 20

If the New Testament distinction between law and grace is hard for us to understand, even though we have the Scripture available to us and two thousand years of Christian theology, imagine how hard it must have been for the early Jewish converts to understand, who had no written New Testament, and whose primary theological context was living under the God-ordained Mosaic covenant within the God-ordained nation of Israel, albeit with the false teachings of the Pharisees and others perverting God’s truth.

It took time for some of those Jewish Christians to work out the implications of the gospel in their lives; they could not simply “flip a switch” and move from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant in their thinking and practice. In fact, due to this dilemma of moving from the Old to the New, a church council had to be held. There occurred such a serious debate as to the true nature of salvation that there had to be a meeting of the leaders of the church. The early church had to work through the reality of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ and yet not abiding by the commands of Moses. The important details of this council were recorded in Acts.

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15: 1 – 12

In this council, Peter and Paul and Barnabas spoke about their preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles and the signs and wonders they performed; their testimony was offered as proof to the Pharisee converts that the things occurring were of God. But no good Jew should simply rely on religious experience as proof of God’s activity, for Moses warned about such things:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamers of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 13: 1 – 3

Surely to some degree the message of the apostles seemed like the dreams of a dreamer, calling people away from the God of Israel to worship a new God, Jesus. But the apostles did not simply rely on their experiences as the proof that their ministry was true and ordained by the God of Israel. The apostles went to the Scripture (the Old Testament) and demonstrated where the gospel was foreshadowed by the Law and the Prophets. In this Jerusalem council, the apostle James referred to a passage from Amos as proof that God was indeed opening up salvation to the Gentiles and that the experiences related by Peter and Paul and Barnabas have precedent in the Scripture.

After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ says the LORD, who makes these things known from long ago. Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles…Acts 15: 13 – 19

James quoted Amos to prove that the prophets spoke of God calling the Gentiles. It was not sufficient to solely rely on the experiences related by the apostles, especially when considering the warning from Moses about false prophets and false signs and wonders. It was of paramount importance for the apostles to relate the gospel to the Old Testament, and this was not a method of their own invention, but taught to them by Jesus Himself.

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke 24: 44 – 47

We can learn much from the apostolic method of gospel preaching and from the Jerusalem council in which Amos’ words were invoked. For if we are to preach the gospel to unbelievers in a manner worthy of the apostles, we cannot only rely on sharing our personal experiences with Christ. We must also endeavor to demonstrate to the lost how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled so many prophecies – prophecies which were hundreds and thousands of years in advance – prophecies like the one spoken by Amos, in which the God of Israel boldly declared that one day the nations would call on His name.

It is a powerful thing to show how God has interacted throughout history, in both declaring things in advance and bringing them to pass. This is how the apostles taught the Christian Pharisees that God was opening up salvation to the Gentiles and that they would not be required to bear the Mosaic Covenant. That same message of grace is what we, and our neighbors, need to hear.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith…Romans 3: 21 – 25

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. Ephesians 2: 11 – 16