John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Jesus handpicked the twelve apostles for a specific work, notes that there is a strong possibility that God has also handpicked each one of us to fulfill a particular role in the Body. Like an engineer on a building project, Jesus Christ has constructed a blueprint with detailed specifications. God is the Supreme Designer. He has called the common and the foolish people for the task of confounding the mighty. But after our calling, God sanctifies us, pounding out the foolishness, through His Holy Spirit putting His precious thoughts into our minds, making matters which were once cloudy clear. Accepting the gift of God's Holy Spirit comes with grave responsibility. We are required to place a high value on this precious gift, guarding it with all our heart. Where our heart is will be our treasure. Spiritual treasure will last, while all things material will deteriorate. Our heart is what makes us tick, what we set our minds to. God reveals that He has a heart and the capacity to feel tenderness. To a lost and hurting people, He assures Ephraim (symbolic of the wayward northern ten Tribes of Israel), "My heart churns within me" (Hosea 11:8). The book of Hebrews clarifies that the persecution on the Church following Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit did not come directly from God—but He did stir the pot that caused the persecuting in that fulcrum time in World History.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that human carnality keeps humanity separated from God, warns us not to trivialize carnal nature, but consider it a sure generator of death. Yielding to any carnal thought is potentially as dangerous as committing murder and, if not avoided beforehand or repented of afterwards, places us on a trajectory into the Lake of fire. God, having no competitive teacher, forearmed Adam and Eve against Satan's wiles, but they willingly yielded to their own carnal lusts which were in sync with Satan's subtle suggestions. Sinning increasingly hides God's purposes from the sinner. When God calls us, placing His Holy Spirit in us, He gives us a measure of added protection that our original parents did not have, infusing us with a desire and ability to overcome our carnal nature, if we choose to so by obedience to Him. Carnality at its core is self-centeredness, pride, and greed. God's gift of faith—one aspect of His Holy Spirit—bequeaths to us the desire and the power to control and subdue our carnal nature. The daunting mystery that confounded Nicodemus, insight into God's plan and purpose, grows crystal clear if we use God's gifts to soften the hardness of our heart. Most of humanity demonstrates total ignorance of God's purpose and plan. God's called-out ones have the privilege to understand both, but must be willing to swim upstream against a powerful current of unbelievers to whom they will appear as oddballs and fools. God purposed this seemingly untenable condition so He could systematically test the genuineness of our faith. God's mysteries have been in plain sight from the beginning of time, but carnality has obscured them from mankind. Though we carry our carnal nature with us continually, we cannot allow its tentacles to strangle us, separating us from God.
John Ritenbaugh dives into a study of the Abrahamic Covenant, a covenant made with one man which impacts all of mankind to the beginning of the New Heaven and New Earth and beyond, involving billions of people. The Abrahamic Covenant is one of the most massive collection of promises of God ever made, promises of which most of mankind are not aware. The many cataclysmic events which have occurred after the Flood (such as World War II) indicate that human nature has not changed one iota. None of us are immune to the temptation of the worst kinds of sin, including adultery and murder. Nimrod, whose rogue kingdom brought about Babel and the Nephilim, was the grandson of Noah. Civilization changes rapidly, and hardly ever for the better because people rarely think about God, let alone obey Him. After the Flood, people had fair warning from God, from the preaching of Noah and Shem, but the clear majority rejected these teachings. Like our father, Abraham, we have been reared in a pagan culture, even though we may have once been 'nominally' Christian. The knowledge of God's plan is given from above—anothen—the beginning of something brand new. Our calling is exclusively God-driven, beyond our control. God is completely in charge of the people He is converting to become a part of His family. God's grace precedes faith, understanding, practice, and sanctification. We make use of His grace through our works. Conversion produces the works of God. We need to remember that, like our father Abraham, God's calling of us will tear us away from relationships we have had for decades. God told Abraham to go to a land that He would give to his descendants, where He would make him a great nation, bless him, and make his name great, blessing those who blessed him, and cursing those who cursed him.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
The images that Jesus used to explain the spiritual birth of a Christian have confused many down through the centuries. John Ritenbaugh explains His use of "wind" and "Spirit," as well as the concepts of "Jerusalem above" and "firstborn" in relation to the born-again doctrine. The Bible consistently compares Christians to already-born and maturing children or adults.
Throughout its recent history, the "born again" or "begotten again" doctrine has time and again been a point of controversy in the church of God. Clearly an important principle, it is the subject of Jesus' first discourse in the book of John, a gospel made up of our Savior's expansions on vital, spiritual subjects. John Ritenbaugh explains that "born again" is entirely a spiritual matter, a fact that Nicodemus misunderstood and one that continues to elude many even today.
Joseph of Arimathea has always been a shadowy figure among the well-known personages of the Bible. Mike Ford helps to dispel the shadows with this sketch of this disciple's life.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that to someone who has been called, there is a unique difference in the understanding and thinking processes not available to most of mankind. Without revelation from Almighty God, the heart becomes calloused and insensitive, having an enmity to the truth of God. Our responsibility is to freely choose to follow the revelation He has given us, overcoming the baggage and the doubtful resistance we have absorbed from the world's cultures. Until God removes the blinders from our eyes, we cannot use our free moral agency to develop the character, resisting the flood of deception spewed out by the deceiver.
Standing up against the majority is never easy, but as Christians, we have been called to do just that. We need to grow in courage until we "are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1)!
John Ritenbaugh observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.
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