John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the tumultuous time recorded in Acts is analogous to the current factional secularism, where God's Church is operating in the shadow of religious structures claiming to be "faith-based," but in fact denying God's Laws. Like the original audience of the Book of Hebrews, who battled a hostile established main-stream religion [Judaism] and persecution from an equally hostile secular Roman government, God's Church today faces a curtailment of tranquility. Like Paul and Nicodemus, God has pulled His people from pagan traditions practiced by the mainstream religion. As we are individually called by the Father (John 6:44), and the spiritual scales fall out of our eyes, we are just as disoriented and bewildered as the apostle Paul, finding our former friends and family members estranged from us. We learn that counting the cost means putting Christ ahead of friends, family, and especially self. At the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the newly converted Jew to the Way encountered persecution from the established religion and culture similar to what God's called-out ones experience today from established religion, family, secular culture, and government, all militating against God's Truth. Although textual criticism, citing stylistic differences in style between the Book of Hebrews and the identifiable Pauline Epistles, casts doubt on Paul's authorship, compelling internal evidence points to Paul as the actual author of Hebrews.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that hardships are a normal part of life, perhaps leading us to despair that God has abandoned us, focuses our attention on a segment of the Apostle Paul's life (recorded in Acts 23-26) when he could have had these depressing thoughts, but did not. Paradoxically, when God seems to be silent, He is feverishly at work micro-managing what otherwise appears as insignificant details. When forty Zealots took an oath conspiring with the Sanhedrin to take the life of Paul, it looked as though he was as good as dead. But God intervened on Paul's behalf to fulfill His purpose. Because of this intervention, an army of armed guards transported Paul out of physical danger, thereby unwittingly facilitating an opportunity for Paul to preach the Gospel to three Roman leaders while he was a prisoner. Characteristically, God uses small things to accomplish His purpose, as He does by calling the base and foolish of the world to confound the wise. Despite the fallacious charges made against Paul by his many enemies, God enabled him to refute the charges with the truth. Just as all the stratagems arrayed against Paul eventually crumbled, the stratagems conspiring against God's called-out ones will also come to nothing. We need to remember that, during those times we fail to see God's hand, He is hard at work intervening on our behalf.
Mark Schindler: As the play Fiddler on the Roof opens, the audience sees a solitary figure, barely visible in the shadows of dawn, sitting and playing his violin on a steep roof overlooking a pre-1917 Russian village. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the estimated 50,000 "Christian" organizations currently extant, suggests that a tiny fraction of the world's people are following "the Way." Doctrinal purity, according to Jesus Christ, does not consist of man-made traditions, which often conflict with God's Commandments. False doctrines cut people off from a wholesome relationship with God. Doctrinal purity is measured according to how one emulates Christ, a requirement for those desiring to qualify to be among the 144,000 following the Lamb. Differences in doctrinal interpretation wreaked havoc on our former fellowship. Jesus Christ engineered its break up and the ensuing scattering of His people for their protection, rendering the splinter groups more obscure in the face of the coming wave of persecution. Scattered brethren, torn away from ineffectual social clubs, are now forced to rely on Jesus Christ as their only bulwark, with the training wheels of groupthink discarded. Christ did not establish any corporate entity, including the Church of the Great God, as His own special group. As the constituent members of the Israel of God realize they cannot cope with the barrage of trials with their own resources, they come to rely on Jesus Christ alone. Only by developing the mind of Christ can one gain ascendancy over the hopelessly evil carnal nature which threatens to destroy all of mankind. God works with the humble and contrite but never with the proud. From the beginning of Creation, the carnal mind has sought its own way. The only way to defeat deadly carnal nature is to stay close to Christ, acquiring His mind, the fountainhead of righteousness and spiritual maturity.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining the Jewish observance of the ten Days of Awe, occurring between Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashana/Day of Trumpets) and Tishri 10, (Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement), points out that, even though there are no biblical instructions to observe the Days of Awe, we may look at their role in considering another view of the Day of Atonement. In the context of Jewish tradition, God allegedly writes three books annually - the Book of Life (in which a rather small number of righteous individual are entered), the Book of Intermediaries (into which most individuals fall), and the Book of Death (for the hopelessly incorrigible). During these ten Days of Awe, if an individual rigidly focuses on his spiritual obligations, repenting of his sins and reconciling with those he has wronged, God will move his name into the Book of Life, allegedly allowing him to return to being a carnal disagreeable person for the rest of the year. Consequently, according to this understanding, ten days of good conduct can wipe out 355 days of bad behavior. As God's called-out ones, we ought to count every day as a day of awe. We also must realize that all sins are sins against God, and that sins against other people do not have less importance.
While the church of God has long taught that the azazel goat of Leviticus 16 represents Satan bearing part of the blame for man's sins, the present series has shown that this view has no biblical support. David Grabbe concludes the series with several common questions posed by those who have desired additional clarification of some of the issues involved in the subject.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the Pharisees, analyzes the reasons for their continuous condemnation. Having their origin in the days of Ezra, the Scribes and Pharisees were extremely zealous for the law, separating themselves for this exclusive purpose. Over time, this originally noble purpose devolved into a rigid, exclusivist sect, separating themselves from foreigners, heretics, or base people, manufacturing strict, repressive rules for the Sabbath; supporting and detailing the Temple service; and promoting strict observance of the tithing laws. As the teachers of the people, they held a great deal of power, which soon became corrupt, turning them into arrogant, desiccated legalists, ignoring the redemptive aspects of God's law. Pharisees sought after signs, interminably multiplied regulations concerning ceremonially clean and unclean, and developed elaborate regulations for washings, actually leading to the breaking of God's law.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the word "Passover" was edited into Deuteronomy 16:1 following the Babylonian Captivity, when both feasts were by tradition called the Passover. Hezekiah and Josiah instituted Temple Passovers as emergency procedures to prevent people from drifting into Baal-centered paganism. At the time of Christ, as corroborated by Josephus, both the biblical commandments and human traditions co-existed. The Temple did not have the capacity to slaughter lambs for the entire population at the prescribed time. Jesus teaches that keeping man's tradition in a relationship with God transgresses His commandments (Matthew 15:3, 8). Thus, Jesus and His disciples kept a ben ha arbayim (between the evenings), early 14th Passover.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the proponents of late Passover (15th) have to make wild speculations about a mass meeting in Rameses, have to discount a series of scriptural details (such as purifying houses and keeping the Passover within the house until the next day). One cannot build doctrines on implication, distortion, and biased traditions. It is safer to let God's Word interpret itself.
John Ritenbaugh insists that nine steps had to be included with the Passover process, including the eating of the lamb, all within the house until the morning. The time frame designated for Passover was ben ha arbayim—a period of time between the going down of the sun and complete darkness (dusk), totally within the confines of the designated day, in this case the fourteenth, as God had commanded. To use scholarship that contradicts the Bible—relying upon tradition rather than God's Word—is not unlike carrying the Ark of the Covenant in the oxcart.
John Ritenbaugh insists that it is the Word of God that is to be trusted—not the records nor the traditions of a people who were supposed to be custodians of God's law, but who liberalized and blurred the distinctions between right and wrong. The Passover was to be kept on the twilight of the fourteenth, while the Days of Unleavened Bread began on the fifteenth. Reliance on the Word of God supercedes reliance on heritage.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
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