Charles Whitaker: In John 15:2, Christ describes two distinct actions on the part of the Father: "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes ...
David Maas, endeavoring to explain the conundrum as to why God would place a desire for eternity in a perishable creature, begins a two-part series, "From Pilgrim to Pillar," exploring classical and modern, biblical and secular, metaphors depicting sanctification, a process through which God transforms perishable raw materials into permanent, indestructible beings—literal members of the God-family. The first message explores the cleansing metaphors of water, appearing in the refining of gold and silver ore, and the potter and clay analogy, in which dross, slag and impurities are discarded and the artifact is softened for shaping and molding. Modern metaphors from print, audio, and visual media liken God the Father and Jesus Christ as copy editors, sound engineers, producers and directors creating magnificent motion pictures from a series of crude graphite penciled sketch-pads. Our carbon-based fleshly bodies are just as temporary as these charcoal etchings: The end product far transcends the prototypes.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that I and II Chronicles (the last books to be canonized in the Old Testament) were post-exilic documents, created for the sole purpose of analyzing the cumulative thematic lessons Judah and Israel had experienced, namely that God has clearly declared what He would do, and that He has proved true to His Word in every circumstance. There is a high probability that Ezra penned the Chronicles, but also some indication that Nehemiah (who had amassed a sizable library of historical records) or other assistants to Ezra or Nehemiah could have carried the work to completion. Perhaps the most righteous of Judah's kings was Josiah, having fewer personal foibles than David, but having equivalent leadership skills to David, coupled with an ardent love for God's law and a single -minded purpose to walk in the Law of God—all this supporting a fervor and energy to carry out reforms which ultimately extirpated the trappings of idolatry which had accumulated during the tenures of Josiah's predecessors for several generations. Beginning his rule at the age of 8-years old, he ruled successfully for 31 years, turning neither to the right or the left, doggedly conforming to God's Law. During his tenure, Judah and Israel were purged of the scourge of idolatry brought about by his reprobate forbears; Josiah destroyed altars, shrines, carvings, wooden images, and high places of pagan gods, and executed the priests and mediums of these pagan religions, spearheading the attack himself. When the book of the Law (Deuteronomy) was discovered in the temple, Josiah led his people into implementing its commands. Though Josiah's heart was tender (with God's Law written on it), his people sadly did not share their King's total commitment to his reforms. Josiah was like a good fig in a basket of rotten figs. Josiah's reforms, though significant, did not enjoy the widespread support of his subjects. For that, they did delay for a little while the consequences of Judah's transgressions against God's covenant. Thou
Christ's healing of ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) stands as a significant sign of His divinity, as it was widely known that only God could heal leprosy. Martin Collins unpacks this scene, explaining that Jesus' interaction with the one leper who returned in gratitude teaches a great deal about faith and spiritual blessings.
Bill Onisick asks us to imagine a hypothetical situation in which we picture ourselves as an olive grower in biblical times who contracts the horrible, wasting disease of leprosy. After confirmation of the symptoms from the high priest, we become isolated from our family and the community. We despair of every feeling the touch of another human being. As a rotting putrefying hulk, we receive new hope as we learn of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. As we prostrate ourselves, imploring Christ to take away the disease, we receive the joy of instantaneous healing and the wonderful feeling of being able to experience the touch of another human being again. In the accounts in Luke and Mark describing perhaps the first healing of leprosy in Israel since Naaman, Christ cautions the cleansed leper not to broadcast the account of his healing publicly, but instead go through the purification ritual outlined in Leviticus. By violating this request, the cleansed leper increased his public mobility but in effect ostracized Jesus Christ, limiting his mobility. There are multiple parallels in the purification ritual in Leviticus and our cleansing from sin, which we could compare to spiritual leprosy. Like leprosy, because sin renders our conscience dead and insensitive, we are not aware of its onset until it is literally wasting us, bringing about dismemberment, isolation and death. Christ took on all of our horrible infirmities, trading His place with us. As spiritual lepers, we can confidently reach out to Christ, and he will cleanse us.
John Ritenbaugh states that Atonement is the least looked forward to holy day. The word atonement alters in meaning as we change the context in which it is used. When we parse the morphology, looking at the suffix "-ment" which changes a verb into a noun, suggests the means by which something is altered or changed, we find that atonement denotes the way something bad done in the past can be made good, or the means to which harmony is achieved, making the entire world at one or reconciled with God. Sin has separated mankind from God, forcing God not to listen to them. Man's estrangement is wholly beyond dispute, and totally man's fault. We cannot expect to reconcile to God on our own terms. Man is not God's equal; His sovereignty must be recognized at all times. The context of "covering" in the Old Covenant did not get rid of or purge sins, but merely covered them. The sacrifice of unblemished animals typified the type of life that Christ would lead: sinless. Sadly, our forebears kept these holy days mechanically, not regarding the significance or the meaning of a "sinless" offering. No heart to heart contact was every made with God; no atonement could be achieved if they never repented or changed. Sin could be considered a violation of relationship, brought about by idolatry, adultery, or fornication. When we realize that God alone can forgive sin, we understand that human love in Proverbs 16:6, does not atone for sin, but it allows the person offended the opportunity to protect or safeguard the reputation of the offender. The context of atonement in the New Covenant is to totally purge or wipe away the sins, only possible through the blood sacrifice of a perfect life, namely Jesus.
Jesus' born-again teaching has been prone to misunderstanding since Nicodemus first heard it from Christ's own lips almost two thousand years ago. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must understand His instruction entirely from a spiritual perspective. Interpreting Jesus' symbols physically obscures necessary truths about how God sees His children and how we see ourselves.
Jesus' healing of the leper in Mark 1:40-45 exhibits His compassion for those suffering the repulsive effects of sin. Martin Collins examines how the cleansing of this horribly diseased man parallels the spiritual cleansing that prepares us for salvation.
The leper who approached Jesus for healing provides us a good example of how we, too, can come before Him for help. Martin Collins examines five vital character traits that we can learn to apply in seeking God's aid.
Leprosy is a gruesome disease, in which an infected person progressively rots and falls to pieces before his eyes. The leper's healing by Jesus teaches that, while Jesus freely healed the man, his cleansing was not really free, and the gift he was told to present to the priests contains vital instruction for all.
The Bible frequently uses the hyssop plant as a symbol of cleansing and purification. In relation to Christ's sacrifice for our salvation, this herb has a connection to the Passover in both the Old Testament and the New.
Most Christians believe that the clean and unclean laws were "done away" at the crucifixion. But is that the case? John Reid looks into the most troublesome New Testament scriptures on the subject.
John Ritenbaugh debunks the foolish notion that it does not matter what we wear if our heart is right on the inside. Our clothing as well as our outward conduct must match what is going on in our inner heart or being. Our clothing, often symbolizing righteousness, ought to reflect or symbolize our inward character. We are admonished to dress up to the standards that God finds acceptable. Old Testament examples of the importance of dressing up before God or when we enter His presence include Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's sons. When God entered into a marriage covenant with Israel, He dressed her up in quality clothing, but when Israel played the harlot, her seductive clothing became a symbol of defiance against God. As Aaron and his priestly sons were commanded to wear special clothing symbolizing purity and righteousness, we as a forming kingdom of priests, must give attention to our clothing as it symbolizes our inward spiritual character and submissiveness to God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
John Ritenbaugh draws parallels between earthy (or physical) and spiritual things. The cleanliness laws in Leviticus, prescribing washing, cleansing, and quarantine procedures, apply to the spiritual dimension as well. God will not tolerate uncleanness, either spiritually or physically. Spiritual sin and filth (physical or spiritual) is the primary contributory cause in devastating diseases such as AIDS or E. Coli contamination. We, as priests-in-training, have the sobering responsibility of keeping our bodies, our quarters, our thoughts, and behaviors clean and pure. Like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we need to flee uncleanness wherever the source.
Purity before God is far more than just being clean. John Ritenbaugh explains that to Jesus being pure in heart touches on the very holiness of God!
When the mixed multitude came out of Egypt with Israel, God gave them an opportunity to join His chosen people. Charles Whitaker weaves together some vital lessons for us from this.
John Ritenbaugh explains that justification is not the end of the salvation process, but merely the doorway to a more involved process of sanctification, symbolized by the long journey through the wilderness toward the promised land, a lengthy purifying process involving Christ's work (of regeneration- making us pure) and our work of applying God's Word to our lives, enabling us to get all the spots and wrinkles out of us. Like the outward signs of a woman's pregnancy, sanctification is the part of the process where we bear fruit, giving visible evidence of God's Holy Spirit working in us.
Of all animals, the sheep is the most dependent on its owner for its well-being. From the viewpoint of the sheep, the extraordinary care of the shepherd comes into sharp focus. If sheep are not provided with fresh, flowing water, they will drink from stagnant puddles, contracting diseases. Likewise, if we attempt to drink from sources other than God's Word, we risk spiritual contamination. Sheep left to self-indulgence become cast down (immobile, unable to get up) and must be turned over—set again on the right paths. Similarly, habit-driven humans, because of our self-indulgent constitutions, can also become immobilized both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, our heavenly Father uses various means to exercise us spiritually to keep us from becoming cast down. To safeguard the health of the sheep, the shepherd must keep the flock moving—in paths of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the infinite superiority of Christ's priesthood and one-time sacrifice as contrasted to the repetitive Aaronic sacrifices, which were incapable of remitting sin, purging consciences, or providing access to God. The shadow image of the Old Covenant could not possibly provide the clarity, dimension, or detail of the reality of the New Covenant, which gives participants access to God and eternal life. Christ's sacrifice, a dividing point in history, was vastly superior because 1) His human experience ensures empathy, 2) God called Him to be High Priest, 3) His offering was more than adequate, 4) His offering reached the Holy of Holies, 5) His priesthood was established on God's oath, 6) His offering was absolutely sinless, 7) He lives eternally, 8) He occupies the heavenly sanctuary, 9) He sacrificed once for all, and 10) His sacrifice can cleanse a guilty conscience, provide access to God, and guarantee our inheritance.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
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