David C. Grabbe: "Hardness of heart" is used several ways in Scripture, but a person can develop this sinful attitude toward both God and man. ...
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
David C. Grabbe: Even though in general God's harvest of His sons and daughters in the resurrection will be a success, we should consider that, individually, it may not be. We do not care to think about it, but we can ...
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that war has personally touched only a fraction of Americans. Not since the aftermath of the 'Civil' War has any part of the nation suffered the ravages of war and the bitterness of defeat. The offspring of Jacob, for the most part, continues to enjoy a period of relative peace and material blessings. The dire events narrated in the Book of Lamentation seem foreign to our scope of experience. For this reason, the events it vividly portrays help us to vicariously imagine the sense of hopelessness and despair experienced by ancient Israel during this historical period. As we approach the coming self-examination prior to Passover, we can apply six significant lessons learned by these people to our personal lives. As human beings we can learn: 1.) Human life is tough, as exemplified in Christ's agonizing sacrifice for us. 2.) Humans are slow to accept blame, but quick at doling it out to others. 3.) Repentance is difficult and rare. Thankfully, we also learn: 4.) God is sovereign, controlling every aspect of Creation. 5.) God is just and is a Deity of Law, giving us precepts that tell us how to live. 6.) God is merciful and faithful, providing a mechanism for our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, balancing His "severity" with His "goodness."
Martin Collins, examining the life of Gideon in Judges 7 and 8, highlights three principles regarding faith: (1) God tests our faith, (2) God encourages our faith, and (3) God honors our faith. To be sure, faith that is untested is not faith at all. God wants to see whether our faith is real or counterfeit. As we exercise our faith, God strengthens it, making it reflex-like. In the endeavor of conquering the Midianites, God clearly demonstrated to Gideon, through His systematically whittling his army from 30,000 to 10,000 to 300, that His providence, and not Gideon's might, would bring the victory. The greater church of God could profit from the knowledge that size, budget, or charismatic leadership has little to do with the impact of the Gospel. Like many of us, Gideon required many assurances from God to realize that He would accompany him in battle. Once Gideon became convinced that God would do what He said He would, his faith and boldness increased exponentially. The stratagem with the pitchers, torches, and the shout, "the sword of the Lord," upended the vastly larger enemy forces which Gideon routed with ease. As God gave Gideon the victory, He also gave Gideon some new tests to his newly acquired leadership, some of which Gideon passed with flying colors, such as his diplomacy with the Ephraimites. He also rightly refused the title of king, reminding Israel that the Lord was their real king. Gideon faltered somewhat in his final years, assuming the lifestyle of royalty, presumptuously fashioning the spoils of victory into an ephod, thereby unwittingly encouraging Israel to return to her idolatrous ways. What the Midianites could not accomplish by swords, Satan accomplished by earrings.
Austin Del Castillo, affirming that correction is something that children and adults find odious, points out that paradoxically the friend who offers constructive correction helps us mature and grow more than a 'friend' who ignores our faults. The very reason we are called into God's Church is so he can mold us into members of His family. It should be a given in our thinking that we must be corrected for much of our walk in this life with our Maker. The Lord loves whom he chastens. Yielding to the correction we receive from Scripture, the ministry and our brethren brings a wholesome sense of humility, needed to learn and overcome. If we harden our hearts to protect ourselves from hurt, as the lyrics of the Simon and Garfunkle song "I am a Rock, I am an Island," we render ourselves impervious to feeling compassion and to the ability to mature psychologically and spiritually, cutting ourselves off from the very ebb and flow of life, turning us into craven cowards, candidate for the Lake of Fire. We must cry out to God to soften our petrifying hearts, realizing that the antidote to the fear of repentance caused by pride is godly humility and the willingness to be set on the right spiritual course. The only rock we should cling to is Jesus Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the substitutes for religion, such as money, power, fame, success, false religion, etc., cannot answer real life questions (e.g., Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?). Most of the world's inhabitants end their lives in despair, chaos, and stress, with no hope at the end of life's journey. People want false immortality, being remembered in politics, charity, science, or art, with a name chiseled on a piece of granite. The entire world is still laboring under Adam's curse, leading lives of quiet desperation, resignation, and despair. When God calls us, it is a light out of the darkness, rescuing us from bondage to sin and transferring us to servants of righteousness, the most satisfying job description ever created. Christ called us to bear fruit; our fruit is evidence that we serve Him. We must live in such a way that we please God, remaining free from sin, producing fruit, and offering our reasonable service. Though the American mindset does not feel inclined to serve, outgoing service to others yields the maximum joy and fulfillment one can possibly attain. Jesus Christ was God the Father's servant; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all servants of Christ. The angels who watch over us do so in a spirit of satisfaction and fulfillment. We should approach our God-given responsibilities by realizing that there is no higher calling than that of a servant.
David Grabbe, observing that Christ threatened consequences to the Thyatira Church if the congregation did not repent, asserts that God usually grants abundant time for people to repent, but that the recipients of this grace often interpret it as God's tolerance for their sin. The effect is that God's patience can harden people, as they neglect the solemn warning brought by His Word (recorded in the Scriptures) and His messengers, the prophets. For a time, especially as we live in ignorance, God displays patience and forbearance, but God requires repentance, as He did with the people of Nineveh. It is human nature to put off repentance if one does not perceive immediate consequences. Today, people have been so enervated by the effects of sin that they continually disregard God's warning message, oblivious to the cause-and-effect relationship between natural disasters and national sin. Some have failed to understand that Christ scattered the church for its own protection as the Laodicean infection began to destroy vital organs. God's goodness is designed to bring us to repentance, but sometimes He needs to be kind to us by allowing us to experience the consequences of our sins. God's ways to lead us to repentance may occasionally seem offensive, even excessively harsh, but He is always faithful to His covenant and wants only the best for us.
Richard Ritenbaugh asks us to consider how we would discipline a recalcitrant, obstinate child, examining a repertoire of techniques from harsh to indulgent, reminding us that good parents should have a whole quiver of solutions, not just a carrot or a stick. The children of Jacob have throughout history behaved like spoiled brats, perennially earning God's wrath and discipline. Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets, pictures a shout of warning, a time of gloominess and dread, the Day of the Lord in the valley of decision, the great tribulation when God's wrath will be poured upon mankind, a curse they bring on themselves. Sadly many in God's Church will also ignore the warning, reaping the consequences of their lack of submission. God is full of grief that it has come to this sad state of apostasy. Our worship on the Day of Trumpets should constitute praise and worship, extolling the attributes, blessings, and promises of God. The Feasts of God establish God's statutes, laws, testimonies, ordinances, and rulings. If we would keep God's Feasts properly, we would be in sync with God's noble purpose for us, defending us from falling into apostasy and idolatry. God tested physical Israel and is continuing to test spiritual Israel, the Israel of God. We dare not imitate the rebellion of our forebears on the Sinai who fell into idolatry, but rather must hallow God and keep His Commandments.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asserting that the history of the United States, compared to the mother country Great Britain, is relatively brief, holds that it is nevertheless well-documented by extremely literate Founding Fathers (Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, etc.), many of whom had a grasp of classical and modern languages. We have a superabundance of their lucid, learned writings in letters, diaries, and official documents, laying bare their goals and aspirations. Sadly, liberal 'progressive' American educators, instead of going back to the primary sources for historical information, create 'redacted,' distorted, hopelessly twisted misinformation, deliberately casting a gloomy shadow on the goals of the Founding Fathers, ridiculing any notion of American exceptionalism. Liberal 'progressive' historians want to focus on blemishes and social problems such as slavery (racism) and women's suffrage (feminism), and imperialism, denigrating any noble and upright motivations our nation may have had. The writings of the founders serve as the foundation for the concept of the American Republic and a Constitution limiting the corrosive power of the Federal government. Historically and spiritually speaking, the beginning of things set the stage for what comes after. Our parents Adam and Eve did not put up much of a struggle resisting sin; unfortunately, we do not either. We are weak and subject to temptation from evil spiritual forces. Thankfully, Almighty God, in the first chapters of Genesis unfurls His plan to call out a spiritual family created in His image. God wants us to learn events, personalities, and principles before they were sullied by subsequent damaging events. As God's called-out ones, we are obligated to follow the lead of our righteous forebears Abraham and Sarah, pursuing righteousness and yielding to God's shaping power. The theme of Psalm 78 is to go back, recalling God's past acts and works, learn the lessons from them, and repent, with the recurring motif: "God acts; Israel rebels; God responds; God
Ted Bowling, reflecting on the potter and clay analogy, reminds us that the Master Potter continually molds and shapes His people. Finding different kinds of clay in the riverbed, he weathers it to the point it stinks (like our own sins), and then pounds the clay on a hard surface, rolling and mashing it, getting rid of the lumps, smashing, pulling apart. All these actions are analogous to bringing all of our sins to the surface, rebuking us and chastising us in love. The potter then cuts the clay (with a device sharper than any two-edged sword), and pounds it again with a rubber mallet to remove all air bubbles. God has been preparing us from the day we are converted and will continue to work with us until the day we die, making sure that we stand the test of time. To battle temptations of this world is not easy. Being molded means continuous change; God needs to know our reactions from test to test. As the Master Potter, God will apply the water of His Holy Spirit to make us more malleable, enabling Him to turn the lump of clay into a flawless work. Life was designed to be full of tests, trials, and temptations, but the Father, who considers us the apple of His eye, is not far off. Those who overcome evil and endure will inherit all things.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his survey of the themes of Psalms Book IV, and the Summary Psalm 149, points out that the clear focus of these psalms is on the work of the glorified saints (that is, the 144,000) in performing the duties of the Bride of Christ, serving as mediating priests under Christ. Psalm 92 is sung in a regular weekly cycle on the Sabbath in synagogue services. Psalm 94 is sung on Wednesday, perhaps signifying the beginning of Jesus' ministry in the midst of the week, while Psalm 93 is sung on the preparation day of the Sabbath. The Sabbath command in Exodus 20 refers to a specific segment of time hallowed by God- (the seventh day) Sabbath, not "a" Sabbath, chosen by man to be kept whenever he feels a need to crash. The Sabbath is to be kept by ceasing to do our physical work (signified by the Greek word transliterated as katapausin) as opposed to merely rest (signified by the Greek word transliterated as anapausin).Almighty God, who never ceases working, completed all His physical creation in six days, commencing the Spiritual creation on the seventh dayWe are commanded to cease all of our physical activities on the Sabbathéthat is, to put aside those activities pertaining to our job, our hobbies, and our own pleasures, switching our focus to developing our spiritual skills and gifts. The seventh day cycle commences at the very beginning of Genesis (2:1-3) and is an important, recurring cycle we are obligated to program into our nervous systems as God's called-out ones. We rest as God does, ceasing or pausing from the physical as we focus instead on spiritual goals; we stop doing our things; we start doing God's things. As glorified saints, we will be flourishing as a verdant tree, producing spiritual fruit. The Sabbath Psalm 92 has an upbeat, jubilant ambience and reflects our gratitude at being chosen (despite our unworthiness) to be joined with Christ in a kind of marriage relationship, preparing to assist Him in reconciling all Israel to God.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an advertisement in which a slick, liberal actor endorsed the concept of pro-choice (murder of the unborn) while making fun of the pro-life concept, states that during the past 40 years, the American people have murdered 54 million babies—far outdistancing the deaths in Auschwitz, Dachau, and all the other death camps throughout the world. The number of babies slaughtered annually far exceed combined military deaths. Disgusting brain suction abortions are routinely performed in pregnancies that have gone beyond three months. Abortion is a result of an insane mental disposition on the part of the befuddled mother, and encouraged by a callused medical community. Medical publications like the Journal of the American Medical Association have indicated that the mental problems of the post-abortion mothers who experience guilt, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and even suicide, have mushroomed out of control. Not only do the mental disorders of the mother hopelessly deteriorate, but the mental health of the siblings, the spouse, and the extended family degenerate as well. As modern Israel rejects God and His Law, God has taken a hands-off approach to the sinning populace, leaving them to come to terms with the consequences of their turpitude. Legalized abortion reveals the moral decadency of a nation, people, and culture—a culture which has totally rejected God. Life begins at conception; science cannot alter that reality. Studies have shown that babies begin learning language within 30 hours of being in the womb. The Scriptures reveal that even before conception, God has planned the future course of the future being. This country, for the past 40 years, has not repented of murdering its young; how much longer will God withhold His wrath?
The Gospel of Mark (one of the Synoptic Gospels) has some characteristics which distinguish it from the others. Scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel which the other gospel writers lifted from and added things to, focusing on different audiences and different purposes. The text of Mark is the shortest of all the gospels, with the emphasis on action more than narrative or long discourses of the others. The apostle Peter had a kind of paternal relationship with Mark, who perhaps had knowledge of Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Papius writes that Mark served as Peter's interpreter. Clement of Alexandria states that the early church commissioned Mark to provide a permanent record before memories would grow dim. Mark as the spokesman for Peter, wrote bluntly and forcefully, addressing a Gentile audience, providing them with a primer for new Christians who had little or no knowledge of Jesus Christ, completed probably before the Council of Jerusalem. Mark describes the miraculous transformation of crude 'unwashed' disciples (who nevertheless responded enthusiastically) to develop (under Christ's meticulous tutelage) into mature converted teachers and fishers of men. Mark emphasizes that Jesus hand-picked 12 individuals from the marginally accepted groups of society, an aggregate who would become a brand new family, united by righteous action. Mark demonstrated Jesus' exasperation and frustration with His disciples for their slow comprehension and their rudimentary development of faith and spirituality. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of this gospel, they are ready for marching orders.
Jesus' miracle of walking on the water contravenes everything we know about natural law, showing that God is sovereign and more powerful than the laws He made to govern His creation. Martin Collins examines Peter's test of faith as well as the other disciples' reactions to this astounding demonstration of Christ's divinity.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Now that we have considered the two main Old Testament words for “repentance,” we can look at the New Testament Greek word metanoia. ...
Martin Collins, citing Ephesians 4:29-32, warns against corrupt, bitter, and wrathful communication, a practice which may grieve or attenuate God's Spirit. We have the tendency to nurse or harbor grievances and bitterness, souring our outlook on everything, creating a cynical or hardened mindset, focusing on the faults and blemishes in everything. Our bitterness grieves Jesus Christ. Wrath and clamor permanently injure others. As the African proverb reminds us, "The axe forgets, but the tree remembers." Evil speaking, slander, and malice must be expunged from a Christian's verbal repertoire. We displace evil-speaking by flooding our minds with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness, cultivating an entirely new emerging personality, useful and helpful to others, emulating Jesus Christ. Driving out the evil must be followed by cultivating goodness and righteousness. Positivity cancels out negativity. An antidote to depression is to get our hearts tenderheartedly focused on someone else, showing mercy and compassion, after the manner of the Good Samaritan, as well as of our Elder Brother and our Heavenly Father. We need to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, He was being closely watched by the Pharisees, yet He did not hesitate to heal on the Sabbath. Martin Collins explains why Jesus' reaction was righteous and the Pharisee's was hypocritical.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on Christ's teachings on the Holy Spirit, expanding into its more complex spiritual parameters. Jesus instructs about the function of the Holy Spirit to carry out God's work, including inspiring one to speak the words of God as a witness and to cast out demons and resist the power of Satan. To deliberately attribute these powers to the Devil (to call good evil), willfully denying God's power to save, constitutes blasphemy against God's Spirit'the unpardonable sin. The Spirit sets apart, inspires the preaching of the gospel, provides healing, frees from bondage, and opens the eyes to truth. It plays a major role in enabling one to become spiritually begotten and ultimately born again, motivating, inspiring, and transforming us from lowly, sinful humans to righteous children of God. Our sole means of worship must be in spirit and truth'living in the Spirit'manifesting concrete acts of service and obedience and deploying rivers of living water.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the account of the man infested with a legion of demons, explores the subject of minds divided against themselves, severely hurting and destroying their possessor as well as those around them. In order to one to fulfill his purpose in life, a person needs to be singularly focused on what he wants to accomplish. Divided minds either result in no activity or productivity or, worse yet, devastating and hurtful consequences. Division (especially division within oneself) destroys. In group dynamics (from marriage to larger entities), unity is better than singularity. All of us, to some degree have divided minds- all of us, to some degree, are insane (or un-sane). Israel has a proclivity for fickleness and an insatiable desire for variety, totally at variance with the changelessness and steadfastness of God. God desires that we become at one with Him- conformed to His image- constant in our character- living as God lives- (motivated by thankfulness and desire) rather than being conformed to the world.
The first six element of motivation were positive, but the last in negative. John Ritenbaugh explains that our fear of being judged negatively by our Judge should spur us to greater obedience and growth toward godliness.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Two Witnesses seem to have carte blanche authority from God to annihilate those who interfere with their work as well as power over weather patterns and natural elements in the spirit, power, and manner of Elijah and Moses. These miracles dramatize just how far mankind has turned from God. The lack or pollution of water signifies the lack or the defilement of God's Holy Spirit. The pattern of two witnesses (God often works in pairs) was established as a precedent from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 19:15), and is repeated many times throughout the scriptures.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon problems understanding the W.C.G. 1974 doctrinal decision on Divorce and Remarriage, contends that any given doctrine must be built layer by layer, combining and comparing scriptures rather than allowing one scripture (such as Romans 7:1-3) to determine the doctrine. Jesus Christ initially appears to side with the position of Rabbi Shamei (divorce for adultery or marital unfaithfulness only) rather than Rabbi Hillel (who more liberally allowed divorce for any reason). When we understand that porneia includes all the hideous perverted sexual sins that go beyond ordinary adultery- including bestiality, pedophilia, homosexuality, incest, and every other imaginable sexual perversion, we understand that Jesus gave a greater latitude and flexibility in these divorce decisions than we had earlier assumed (based exclusively upon adulterous 'fraud'). Any violence against the marriage contract (stemming from unconversion) would constitute grounds for divorce, and would permit the converted partner to remarry. Mutual access to the tree of life (God's Holy Spirit) gives marriage the best (actually the only) chance to succeed.
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh assures us that God is involved in the minute details of every converted person's life just as much as He is in the major historical world events. As a new creation of God (II Corinthians 5:17) we receive continuous, meticulous, detailed attention through the creative activity of His grace which never stops. God, as Creator, takes the initiative (as the potter over the clay) for the elect's salvation, enabling us to build the repertoire of habits called character. In this process, bringing certain things together in the lives of the called, both calamitous as well as positive, God fulfills His purpose. Even though we don't at times know where we are headed, we need to develop the faith or trust in God's vision for us.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that even though sin offers temporal and fleeting pleasure, we must learn to intensely hate sin, regarding this product of Satan as a destroyer of everything God loves and cherishes. We will ultimately be judged on what we have done with what we have been given, living what we know, and intensely striving to emulate God- the essence of love. If we sin, we love neither God nor ourselves. Sin corrosively destroys innocence, ideals, and willpower, replacing these qualities with hardness, slavery, more sin, degeneracy, and ultimately death.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the trials of Joseph are a clear exposition of the principle of Romans 8:28 that "all things work together for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Even allowing for mankind's free moral agency, propensity to sin, stumbling, and getting into difficulties, God continues to work out His purpose (making lemons into lemonade) even when people do not know it is for their good (Genesis 50:20). The key to Joseph's greatness is that he allowed his affliction and hardship to humble him, giving him a Christ-like character.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Josiah's temple Passover observance (II Chronicles 34) was supervised by the king so they wouldn't revert back to paganism. The only proof text of the 15th Passover advocates (Deuteronomy 16:1) has been edited or tampered with in order to reflect the practice following the Babylonian captivity of calling both Passover and Unleavened Bread "Passover." The context of Deuteronomy 16:1-3, referring to cattle sacrifices and unleavened bread suggest the real focus of these verses is on the Night to be Observed and the Days of Unleavened Bread rather than the Passover.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the proclivity of the ancient Israelites to nullify the power of the gospel, refusing to mix it with actual obedience, which stems from faith and belief. What they heard never became a part of their lives; "Egypt" never left the Israelites. We have to exercise care that we do not follow suit, assenting intellectually but hardening our hearts when it comes to making the changes demanded of us. The consequences for us are far graver than the consequences for them. By yielding to God, we begin to experience the kind of life that He experiences. The rest (katapausis) which God experiences (a period of refreshment, prefiguring the Millennial rest) is a rejuvenating, exhilarating peace of God we can experience right now. We need to yield to the correcting powers of His Word, a means of reflecting the contents and intents of the heart.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh explains the context in which a tenant farmer would find a buried treasure after the original inhabitant had meticulously hid it fleeing from an invading army. Our calling resembles this parable and the Parable of the Pearl of great price; we seemingly stumble upon it accidentally and intuitively realize its priceless value. The parable of the Dragnet again describes the culling process God uses to separate the truly committed from those mildly interested. God brings forth people from every walk of life with a whole array of skills and talents- gifts that God intends His called-out ones to use for the good of the whole congregation. We need to make sure that a prejudice, 'experience', weakness, or blind-spot on our part does not become a barrier to God's truth. Regarding Jesus siblings, He had at least three sisters and four brothers. Chapter 14 begins with the lurid and grizzly details of the beheading of John the Baptist, caused in part by the blind ambition of Salome's mother as well as Herod's guilty conscience after John the Baptist exposed his blatant adultery and lust. The next part of the study delves into the incredible miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, an example of Christ multiplying the meager talents and capabilities of His disciples. If we yield our gifts and talents to God's work or service, He will multiply them, accomplishing more than we could possibly do by ourselves. The miracle demonstrates both God's principle of generosity as well as the responsible stewardship of physical resources. The last part of chapter 14 delves into Jesus walking on the water and Peter's well-meaning, but abortive exercise in faith. Like Peter, we must keep our focus upon Christ rather than the surrounding physical circumstances. Faith operates when we cannot see what we hope for. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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