John Ritenbaugh states that every nation has its privileged—whether they are royalty, wealthy oligarchs, politicians, athletes, or entertainers. Surprisingly though, the masses have privileges which they do not recognize as such, namely the privileges of sight, hearing, walking and speech. God has provided in His Holiness Code proscriptions against taking advantage of those who are handicapped. Additionally, those God has blessed with material wealth have obligations to help the poor, as is seen in the command to avoid gleaning the corners of the fields. Our welfare programs have scriptural principles as their general inspiration, but unfortunately, politicians have abused these programs, encouraging on the part of recipients a toxic dependency which God never intended. Living in a land occupied by the children of the Patriarchs, to whom God revealed His Covenant, is a great privilege. Sadly, the majority of physical Israelites have rejected God's Covenant. God has healed the spiritual blindness and deafness of the members of the true Church, the Israel of God, at the same time calling them to become members of the God Family. As we contemplate our offerings, we should factor this insight into our sense of gratitude and responsibility.
John Ritenbaugh, differentiating Pentecost from the other High Holy Days, suggests that its uniqueness consists of the extra-special gift to God's called-out ones, namely the precious additive of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to perform the tasks God has prepared, giving us the power to overcome, build character, and attain membership in His family. Without God's Holy Spirit, our carnal nature is hostile to all His purposes. In the context of physical death, there is no difference between the spirit of man and the spirit of an animal. But, with the sealing of God's Holy Spirit is the promise of becoming His offspring and serving productively in His family. The spirit in man separates mankind from animals, giving man the ability to plan, analyze, create art, music and literature, developing technology that makes our heads spin. Without God's Holy Spirit, mankind has never been able to live at peace. When we yield to God's Holy Spirit, we receive the power to do the things God has prepared His firstfruits to accomplish, adding exponentially to the capabilities and the achievements of the spirit in man.
John Ritenbaugh begins by reiterating the six principle points of the universal Edenic Covenant: (1) establishing God as Creator, (2) presenting awesome gifts (such as our planet earth and our lives, (3) presenting us with our task of taking care of the earth, (4) establishing the marriage relationships through our original parents, (5) establishing the definition of sin and warning of its ultimate results, and (6) sanctifying the seventh day as the Sabbath for special instruction from God. He then delves into the horrendous consequences of sin, through the literal and figurative application of the term "nakedness," implying loss of innocence as well as the condition of shame and guilt. All figurative references to uncovering nakedness connect to idolatrous adultery or impurity of sins and transgression, including that of Adam and Eve, who fell from a state of intimate contact with God to profound estrangement between themselves, their Creator and virtually all of creation. The mark of sin, impossible to conceal, acquired by Adam and Eve, is a mark also borne by all their progeny, generating guilt and fear part of our mental repertoire, making us fearful of being exposed for what we really are. It is impossible to escape God's scrutiny. All of the sufferings of the present time had their origin in the Garden of Eden when our parents, greatly gifted by God in that they had a personal relationship with the Creator, sinned, seemingly in secret. But, their sin did not take place in a vacuum, no more than our sins do. They radiate out as ripples on water or spores of yeast in the leavening process. All Eve did was to take a bite of food, but the world has never been the same since that event. No one gets away with sin; the consequences reverberate endlessly. All of us will eventually be compelled to give an account of our behavior to our Creator. We will be able to blame only ourselves for our sins. We will not be able to blame our genetic make-up or our environment or Satan for our mistakes.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ezekiel 34, in which the self-centered shepherds devour the flocks, reminds us that in addition to religious leaders, shepherds also include governmental, corporate, educational, and family leaders. In the combined history of Judah and Israel, when the leaders abandoned the covenants with God, the citizenry generally followed suit. Today, the prophecy in Isaiah 3:12 has come to pass in full force. Isaiah's prophecy, "children are their oppressors is being fulfilled on several levels, from youthful gang violence and leaders "Childish," immature minds, unable to grasp the true demands of leadership. God desires to create leaders who can show by example rather than tyrannically dominate by brute force. It seems that the vast majority of Israel's leaders have had serious deficits in leadership skills. The only Being who is worthy to rule is Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:12)], who qualified by what He did in the past, totally yielding Himself to the will of God the Father, following Him unconditionally. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to follow the same course, qualifying to become a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:9), and co-heirs with Christ as His collective Bride. The Leadership that God desires of us is what we learn following the Lamb, conforming to His example. Without a broad comprehension of God's covenants, we cannot presume to lead. None of us had a trace of leadership skills before our calling; what we accomplish is only due to God's working with us, imprinting His leadership skills in us. Covenants are unifying agents (as long as we pay attention to what God says), revealing not only His purpose, but also His judgments. The vast creation serves as a teaching device, instructing mankind about God's grace. The first covenant is the Edenic, which teaches that (1) God is the Creator, (2) God is orderly, (3) creation mirrors God's perfection, (4) creation is not to be worshiped, and (5) God has tasked mankind with managing His creation.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that human nature has to be continually reminded of God's providence even when people are undeserving of the bountiful blessings. Sadly, our forebears often forgot the frequency of God's merciful intervention and declared that it was useless to serve God. Satan loves to manipulate our nervous systems, leading us to believe that injustices are continually perpetrated against us. Human nature loves to feel downtrodden, abandoned, unloved, and taken advantage of, wallowing in self-pity. The Feast of Tabernacles serves as an antidote to incessant injustice collecting. To the ancient Israelites, the harvest testified to God's providence; to the Israel of God, the produce of the fruits of Spirit testifies to God's providence in our spiritual growth. All of the Holy Days are reminders of God's supervision and oversight of His masterplan for the Israel of God. In the context of God's spiritual blessings, it takes some thought and consideration to put a dollar value on something that is priceless. God never said that Christian life would be easy; Jesus Christ warned us to count the cost. God never promised that life would be fair; Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Elijah all suffered unjustly. Facing trials is a part of God's way of life because we are being trained and prepared for something beyond this life, requiring a thorough regimen of necessary proving and testing to know what is in our hearts. God never loses track of anybody. David's decision to grant the spoils of victory against the Amalekites to both the stouthearted and weary fall behinds alike indicated God's care and providence to all. This is the way God looks at each and every person in the Israel of God. Nobody is favored above another regardless of what they have done. Everybody is treated equally. God doesn't deal in favoritism. Every little cell in the Body of Christ is equally important. To whom much is given, more is required.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us to value our calling, observing that, just as Jesus and His disciples were burdened with the doctrines of the scribes and Pharisees, so God's called-out church is encumbered with nominal Christianity, institutions which have militated against the whole counsel of God, even though they claim to get their teachings from the Bible. God places the blame for misleading and scattering Israel on the shepherds (sometimes metaphorically identifying the ministry or religious leaders, but more at governmental, judicial, academic, corporate leaders, and also the leaders of individual families). There is a dangerous leadership deficit in modern Israel, totally antithetical to the responsible leadership of father Abraham. A deceived nominal Christianity, hopelessly detached from God's covenant, has led people astray by lies. Modern Israel, by turning its back on the truth, has blown its opportunity for moral leadership every bit as much as ancient Judah did. Despite the moral failure of our elected leaders, we must maintain leadership in our individual families. The church is a unique institution apart from Israel and Judah, specially prepared by God in the last 2,000 years, having the responsibility of shepherding a distracted, lost, dependent flock abandoned by irresponsible, neglectful, self-serving leaders, teaching it God's Laws. Likewise, our current self-serving political leaders, steeped in godless humanism, are purposely destroying our country and civilization under the direction of Satan, leading to a perpetual civil war (of ideas and beliefs) in our country with no prospect of peace until Christ's Second Coming.
Ronny Graham, observing that Jesus changed the name of Simon to Peter (meaning rock), and the names of James and John to Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, explains that Jesus called people by characteristics which described them. Christ was preparing them for the job they would do ahead. James and John had an excess of zeal, but initially lacked eloquence and wisdom. They were always ready, with the speed and energy of lightning, often symbolic of the wrath of God. Thunder is often compared to the voice of God. Perhaps God was preparing James and John to serve as His voice , channeling their zeal and energy for constructive purposes. Similarly, we need to allow God to redirect our efforts to His purpose rather than our own.
John Ritenbaugh, fearing that we may be following suit in the world's religions by focusing on "getting salvation" rather than preparing for service in God's Kingdom, cautions us that we must re-orient our mindset, seeking to grow in the stature of Christ. Many mainstream religions believe that much of the "pesky" rules of the Bible have been 'done away.' We dare not 'do away' anything that is part of God's mind, or we will not be in His image. In judging, one size does not fit all. Some of the Commandments are more important than others, but they are all important. Acts 15 did not give Gentiles exemption from keeping God's Law. The laws of clean and unclean were not done away, but the vision Peter saw was given so that he would not judge Gentiles as common. The "yoke" Peter described in Acts 15:10 was not the Old Covenant laws, but rather Pharisaical regulations which were not a part of the Old Covenant. The Sabbath, Holy Days, and Clean and Unclean laws were not done away; the sacrificial system will be re-instituted for a time in the Millennial setting. We have been commanded to pursue holiness, moral purity, a necessary quality to grow into God's image. The term holy, in every context, does not always mean morally pure, but instead to cut something, or to set apart from the group. The term Greek haggios, however, denotes moral purity, only possible through God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to become partakers of the Heavenly calling, justified by Christ's blood, faithfully keeping the Commandments of God in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Those who have been called now have an advantage over the ancient Israelites, having power to faithfully keep God's Commandments (written indelibly in our hearts), motivated by His Holy Spirit. Holiness encompasses all of what was written in both the old and new covenants.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Ecclesiastes chapters 1-6 contains a sub-theme of materialism—specifically an indictment of the supposed satisfaction one receives from it suggests that materialism contains no lasting fulfillment. According to some studies, the higher a person is on the economic scale, the less altruistic he is inclined to become. The only lasting enjoyment comes from establishing a relationship with God, understanding that: (1) life is God's gift; (2) He desires us to spend our time preparing for an eternal relationship with Him; (3) the fruit of active involvement with God is eternal life; (4) by faith, seeking God will lead to an above-the-sun life; and finally, (5) if there is no kingdom of God, then nothing matters except what is going on in the here and now. We desperately need to seek Godly wisdom, a multi-faceted spiritual gift which helps us make practical use of all the other spiritual gifts. Wisdom is practical skill in living, coexistent with the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a whole collection or spectrum of skills for living God's way—something that takes a lifetime to learn.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the Elements of Judgment series by focusing on Deuteronomy 32:1-4, a passage which characterizes all of God's ways as exemplifying justice, challenges us] to emulate the ways of God, demonstrating justice in our lives, thoughts, words, and deeds, preparing to judge in God's Kingdom. God does not operate with the "one size fits all" system; each circumstance we encounter is somewhat unique. Though there are two Great Laws (love toward God and love for our fellow man), not all laws below these are on the same level; none of God's Laws are 'done away.' In every situation, we need to strive to hit the mark, but a distinction must be made between unintentional (done in ignorance) or deliberative. Intentional sins conducted with bravado erode the respect for God, inviting the death penalty, while unintentional sins call for a measure of mercy and sometimes a measure of damage control. Sin does not always occur in a straight-forward manner with everyone fully involved to be able to discern. To whom much has given, much will be required; the ruler is more culpable than the ordinary citizen. Everybody is not equally guilty. Murder and manslaughter is not equivalent. Criminal negligence is not the same as a normal accident; circumstances alter judgments. On the basis of a deliberative sin on the part of King David (taking a military census), Israel lost 70,000 people in one day. God's judgment was always sternest on the High Priest, and then the ruler, and then on the head of the family. Teachers, especially hypocritical teachers who do not practice what they preach, receive a far sterner judgment than their students or disciples. We are all responsible for what we hear and how we act upon it. Judgment is measured against the capacities of knowing the truth and acting upon it. Judging is a difficult process of measuring against the Word of Truth; sin does not operate in a straight-forward manner, but follows serpentine routes requiring much discernment.
John Ritenbaugh, rehearsing one of the major factors which divided the Worldwide Church of God, the denigrating of all aspects of God's law, averring that belief in Christ trumps everything, claims that some major elements of righteous judgment were cavalierly tossed out the window. Such a careless approach led to the rejection of the Sabbath, wholesale embracing of Pagan holidays, discarding tithing, eating unclean meats, circumcision and other, what they considered to be purely ceremonial aspects of the law. Like the days of the Judges, the last days of the WCG demonstrated a dearth of righteous judgment. As with the first century church, God expects us to think wisely within the parameters of His Law, coming into alignment with His Word. Without applying righteous judgment, a person without God's Spirit might be inclined to discard the Sabbath, along with the dietary and sacrificial laws. The New Covenant also requires that we live by every word of God; the Law was not done away. Without God's Law, we cannot judge righteously. One should never carelessly assume that any law of God is done away, but we should also consider that not every law has the same level of seriousness and does not warrant the same level of judgment, as illustrated by the difference between willful sin and sin committed out of weakness. The weightier matters of the law (love and mercy) are more important than other aspects of the law, including faith and sacrifice. We need to develop righteous judgment to keep proportion as we make decisions about applying God's Law.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, reminds us that we are called to a lifetime of decisions and judgments. We have problems with judging fellow brethren in different groups of the greater Church of God, of which at least three claim to be the only true church. This intemperate judgment may come back to bite the biter in a painful place. Judgments must always be open to new information; a fellow servant never falls on our judgment or estimation of him. It is terribly difficult at times to recognize the tare or to recognize the true wheat. Christ's judgments are made according to what each person has been given. We need to internalize this practice of judging and evaluating, especially regarding our brother or fellow servant. We cannot possibly know the levels of gifting God has bestowed on the other members of God's family. Just because we understand an aspect of spiritual truth does not mean that God has gifted the other member to comprehend it, or vice versa. God gifts each person as it pleases Him. God provides the hearing ear, understanding, and wisdom, both in the physical and spiritual dimensions. Not everybody has ears to hear in both dimensions. Even the converted do not comprehend the full spectrum of parable-centric teaching, often containing multiple layers of meaning. The secret things belong to God; the revealed things become our property on a need-to-know basis, only when we have developed the ability to use the information responsibly, using the mind of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts to serve the entire congregation as they are needed.
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
Mike Ford: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell examines how some people have become successful. Using case studies, the author shows how family and friends played significant roles ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Matthew 23 and 24, suggests that Matthew is in the habit of presenting Jesus' teachings on a given topic all in one place in the Bible, presenting the teachings from a decidedly Jewish point of view, demonstrating the ability of Jesus to thwart the insidious challenges of the Pharisees, as well as offering proofs of His Messiahship. The parables of the two sons, the wedding feast, and the wicked vine dressers all castigate Israel for rejecting God's messengers and the Messiah, calling for eight woes, rendering physical Israel and the Temple (symbol of Israel's splendor) totally desolate and uninhabited. In short, the nation of Israel would fall. We must be sure, as Christians and members of the Israel of God, not to miss the object lesson to us. God is no respecter of persons; He is a God of equity and fairness. God is not a soft-headed pushover who will accept us, sins and all; He does not budge one inch for sin. As God dealt with our disobedient forbears, He will deal with us in the exact same way if we stray from the truth, breaking His commandments. God is not mocked; what we sow is what we will reap. God's patience is long, but He will reach a boiling point when He will clean the slate, including disobedient members of His own church. God is a God of mercy, but He has a stiff core of justice which will not be placated unless we repent. To whom much has been given, much will be required.
Of all of the Ten Commandments, the seventh, "You shall not commit adultery," most clearly covers the subject of faithfulness. The prophet Amos exposes Israel as a people who have a particular problem with this sin and with faithfulness in general. John Ritenbaugh reveals how unfaithfulness in marriage and other areas of life devastates family and society.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable accomplishments and honor bestowed on God's servant Moses, who sacrificed immense worldly honor and fame to become a servant of God, demonstrating real servant leadership in action. The greatness of a nation depends on its responsiveness to God's preachers. If a preacher fails in his responsibility, the nation goes down the drain. Although Moses was highly educated, he was very humble and meek, driving him continually to God for sustenance and power. God commends Moses for his trustworthiness and faithfulness, comparing him favorably with Jesus Christ, who always did things to please His Father. We need to emulate Moses, being faithful in using the gifts God has parceled out to us. After he was cast out of Egypt, he learned to be humble, reflective, and wise as he tended sheep in Midian. The combination of his life experience made him ready to lead a rebellious, complaining slave people. As God knew Moses, David and Jeremiah from the womb, God has also predestined us for a unique calling. As can be seen in the intricacies of a blueprint or schematic diagram, no part of God's creation escapes His mind. We must emulate Moses in his faithfulness, doing our best with what God has given us, remembering that the road to leadership commences with humility and submissiveness, a virtual bond-slave to God. As God continually enabled Moses, God will always provide us what we need to succeed as long as we are faithful.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that although Jesus Christ is not the Absolute Deity, He is nevertheless the complement of the Father. Christ clearly distinguished Himself from the Father when He said, "The Father is greater than I," "The Father sent me," and "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." Both John the Baptist and Jesus were called "divine," but Jesus Christ had a pre-existence as the God of the Old Testament sent by the Invisible God. As Jesus deferred everything to the Father, we must also do likewise through Jesus Christ by emulating His life and behavior. Both Jesus Christ and the Father are unique in the Universe; the One to whom Jesus deferred is the source of everything and is accountable to no superior, while Christ has the Father over Him.
Most of us are living in the midst of the end-time manifestation of Babylon the Great. We can resist its influence if we understand what makes it so attractive to human nature. John Ritenbaugh explains what makes the Mystery Woman tick and why God judges her so severely.
Prophecy has many purposes, but it is never intended to open the future to mere idle curiosity. Its much higher purpose is to furnish guidance to the heirs of salvation. John Ritenbaugh explains how the tumultuous sixth-century BC prepares us for the time of the end.
Is Matthew 27:25 a Jewish admission of deicide? Charles Whitaker shows that, properly understood, the statement is absolutely not a curse. Moreover, God has nowhere bound Himself to chastise Jewry as a whole for the actions of a relatively few people in Pilate's judgment hall that morning.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Matthew 17:13 and clearing up some misconceptions about the resurrected Elijah coming before the arrival of Christ (a mission fulfilled totally by John the Baptist in Christ's time), cautions us to apply duality of prophecy carefully and cautiously rather than indiscriminately. With this admonition in mind, the sermon focuses upon a major world event even secular historians have termed a dramatic axial period, occurring within the sixth century B.C. -a time faithfully described by the prophets beginning with Jeremiah- a time sometimes referred to as the time of the Gentiles- reckoned to be the origin of the present Babylonic system or world order. Paradoxically, this system has been embraced and perpetuated by the modern house of Jacob. A new axial period, beginning with the testimony of the two witnesses, will again turn this world upside down, replacing the present decadent Babylonian system with God's government.
Understanding our obligation to Christ leads to a deeply held, personal loyalty to Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that our redemption by means of Christ's sacrifice should make us strive to please Him in every facet of life.
God's sense of justice comes into question in the minds of men when they read of His judgments in the Bible and see His acts in history. His judgments seem unfair because man can never please God on his own since God's standards are higher than he can achieve. Yet He has made it clear that even the smallest infraction of His law merits the death penalty. Everyone is guilty! God, then, is absolutely justified in what He decides regarding the judgment and punishment of us all (conversely, He always rewards righteousness). Moreover, we do not know all the circumstances and reasons for His judgments, so our opinions of God's decisions are at best ill-informed. Of all judges, only God is absolutely fair and incorruptible. And when He shows mercy it manifests His lovingkindness and grace.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the reason Jacob succeeded and Esau failed had nothing to do with personality, but Jacob was elected from the womb (Romans 9:7-11). God gave Jacob the edge. Likewise, we can do nothing to gain the favor of God before our calling, but we are empowered by God to carry out a particular part of His plan to edify the body. We need to guard our appetites, preventing any kind of over-stimulation which would produce an apathetic worldly Laodicean temperament. Paul suggests that with the level of gifting God has blessed us, there is virtually no reason to fail (Ephesians 1:3). God has chosen, elected, predestined us, forgiven us, given us wisdom, an insight into the future, and has empowered us with His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, using illustrations from the God's creation, observes that comparing the grandeur and intricacy of God's creation with man's most magnificent accomplishments gives us both a sense of humility at our own puniness and a sense of awe for God's handiwork. God is the source of all of the splendor and greatness of the universe. God has called us to be in His image, to be holy (having transcendent purity) as He is holy, having fellowship with the Father and the Son. Transcendent purity cannot coexist with sin. If we want to be like God, we need to (using God's Holy Spirit) work on purifying ourselves, purging out sin and uncleanness, reflecting our relationship with God in every aspect our behavior. Sanctification is a process, with each person's walk as difficult as it needs to be for God's transforming glorifying purpose for him or her to be fulfilled.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that even before we acquire the necessary motivational building blocks of faith, hope, and love, we must acquire the fear of God (spanning the emotions of stark terror to reverential awe) providing a key, unlocking the treasures of God. The process of acquiring this fear comes through a perennial sequential pattern of chaos or disorder followed by Divine order, revealing God's glory, followed by judgment in some form. The cycle takes place in our lives just as assuredly as it did in the biblical examples. Judgment is now upon the Church of God. Learning from biblical examples, we dare not treat what is holy as common, but must (with the metaphorical hills and valleys of our character leveled) maintain a steady reverential fear of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the easiest part of God's work is the preaching the Gospel to the world- a task mechanically carried out as the church deteriorated from within. Much more demanding is the feeding of the flock, producing the kind of faith and trust to transform formerly carnal individuals into glorified members of His family. The work of the church varies from time to time, with different functions performed as different needs arise. God determines when, where, and the direction He wants His work to go. At this time, God has purposed to "blow the church apart" for our own spiritual safety. Our current focus should be upon the factors that caused the deterioration within the body, determining to respond to God, fixing the problems (the cracked foundations of faith emanating from a counterfeit gospel) that led to our implosion and scattering.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the deeply felt sense of obligation we feel knowing that a ransom has been paid to redeem us from the death penalty. While we have been justified through grace by faith, good works are the concrete and public reality of this faith. Because we have been bought with an awesome price, we have no right to pervert our lives, but are obligated to look upon our bodies as sacred holy vessels in His service. In John 15:16 Christ teaches that He has appointed us to bring forth fruit. Christ's special calling produces a sense of gratitude, loyalty, and intimate friendship in which we feel an abhorrence of letting Him down.
Conversion is a growing relationship with God, and thus it is a process that, if not worked on, will deteriorate. Like a dating couple, if the partners in this relationship do not spend time with each other and become closer, they will drift apart. Conviction is paramount to this process: We must be absolutely loyal and faithful to God. Our conviction reveals itself in living by faith. The life of Moses is a stunning example of how a "convicted" Christian should live.
John Ritenbaugh, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the operation of God's government absolutely depends on each person governing himself, never going beyond the boundaries God has given him. Human nature always wants to break free of those boundaries. Through our entire lives, we need to study diligently to find out what our responsibilities are to God and fellow man, developing godly character. Godly character and human nature will be perpetually at war with one another as long as we are in the flesh. All the experiences we go through are preparing us to be a better judge or king. While we are being judged, though we may exercise righteous judgment, we dare not pass judgment nor justify sin in ourselves. Spiritual maturity comes when we accept responsibility for what we are and have done.
John Ritenbaugh warns that presumptuous sins carry far greater penalties than those committed out of weakness. No sacrifice can be made for sins done deliberately. A person who sins presumptuously deliberately sets his will to do what he knows is wrong. Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzzah, all totally aware of the penalties for what they were contemplating, arrogantly rebelled against God's clear and unambiguous instructions. We need to realize that it is impossible for God to act unjustly, and soberly reflect on God's mercy and grace as a prod to repent.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
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.
The church at large has downplayed the fuller dimension of the fear of God by emphasizing awe, respect, or reverence, while ignoring its other dimensions such as fright, dread, or terror. Consequently, many have inadvertently adopted a soft concept of God, disrespecting and showing contempt for God's authority and power. Mistakenly, we transfer or appropriate our fear to human beings, who cannot revoke the penalty of death hanging over us. When Moses and Isaiah recognized God's presence, they became aware of their own vileness in comparison to God's holiness and power. By legitimately fearing God, we lose our human terror, finding sanctuary in God Almighty. Godly fear is a gift given to us as a result of His calling, compelling submission to His purpose and leading to godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh highlights how the witness of the apostles, particularly miraculous healings performed in the name of Jesus Christ, brought them into conflict with the established Jewish leaders, the entrenched Sadducees and the Sanhedrin. Peter used the startling impact of these healings to draw attention to the fulfilled prophecies pertaining to Jesus—the source of the healing power—whom the crowds Peter was addressing had crucified in ignorance. As the veil of ignorance is lifted, they (and we) have the responsibility to act on this knowledge of culpability in His crucifixion and fully repent—undergo a total change of life. Focusing on his predominantly Jewish audience, he affirms that belief in the prophecies of the Old Testament will lead to belief in Christ. Being in Him makes us heirs of the promises to Abraham.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when a person contemplates revenge, he makes an enemy of God. Amos, like a circling hawk, makes dire pronouncements on all of Israel's enemies but reserves the harshest judgment for Israel, who should have known better, having made the covenant with Almighty God, but profaning their calling and drifting into moral complacency. God's church, the Israel of God, must realize that closeness to God comes with a weighty responsibility. God's justice is the same for everybody; He is no respecter of persons. The church is warned not to mix His truth and pagan (or worldly) error in the manner of Jeroboam I. We desperately need to cultivate (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) an ardent love of the truth. Modern Israel, prosperous and indulgent, is chastised for covetousness, indifference to the poor, and perversion of justice.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Gentile nations without God's revelation were held accountable for basic principles of humanity. Amon's barbarity, Tyre's faithlessness, and Moab's propensity for sustained anger (exemplified by burning the bones of Edom to lime) and the desire to take revenge - God punishes with severity. God warns us that vengeance is His exclusively and will not tolerate our taking the law into our own hands. God reserves the severest penalty for Judah and Israel because they had spurned the covenant God had made with them. To whom much is given, much is required. God is no respecter of persons. As the Israel of God, we need to take these admonitory words personally- making sure that we do not syncretistically mix pagan and Christian elements (lies and truth) together. If we cultivate a love for the truth and guard the truth, the truth will guard us.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that the book of Amos is specifically addressed to us- the end time church (the Israel of God) - the ones who have actually made the new covenant with God. Having made the covenant, we must remember that (1) privilege brings peril- the closer one draws to God, the closer will be the scrutiny, (2) we can't rest on past history or laurels, and (3) we (the ones who have consciously made the covenant with God) must take this message personally. Absolutely fair in His judgment, God judges Gentile and Israelite according to the level of moral understanding He has given them. No human being can escape the obligation to be human, as God has intended — treating other fellow human beings humanely (not as things or objects of profit). Edom's perpetual nursing of anger (harboring bitterness and hatred continually) against Israel is especially abhorrent to Almighty God- a candidate for the unpardonable sin.
John Ritenbaugh begins by explaining that Amos means "burden bearer," characterizing the message he delivered. Like a hawk circling around in tightening circles, Amos gives a series of dire warnings beginning with Israel's arch-enemies but concluding with a blistering indictment on Israel herself—appearing religious, prosperous, and formidable on the outside but rotting from self-pleasing idolatry and cancerous moral decay on the inside. This situation parallels modern Israel and the current situation in the church of God. Privilege (God's calling) brings grave responsibility, and judgment (God's plumb line) begins at the house of God. Amos is speaking to us.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the over-riding motivation for the individuals bringing to Jesus the woman caught in adultery was to trap Him, impaling Him on the horns of a dilemma. (Condemning the woman to death would have brought Him into conflict with Roman law; not condemning Her would have brought Him into conflict with the law of Moses.) Jesus, when He wrote in the dirt, perhaps listed instances in which the spirit of the law was violated in the thoughts or behaviors of the accusers, exposing the cruel, condemnatory attitude of the Pharisees. God's approach to authority is that it should be used to serve, and that the chief function of judging (from the stance of humility, mercy, and understanding) is to evaluate and to gently correct and reclaim rather than to condemn. Jesus, claiming to be the light of the world (drawing on a familiar temple ceremony involving candelabras), emphasizes His function as the Messiah, the embodiment of truth, giving form, shape, and substance to our lives, guiding us around or through life's difficulties. Believing that Jesus is God will motivate us to submit to Him in every aspect of our lives, providing an antidote to enslaving fears common to all of mankind, freeing us from the bondage of sin.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 21 describes Jesus Christ's public announcement of His Messiah-ship, when the crowds would select Him to be the Paschal sacrificial Lamb of God. After overturning the money changer's tables and cursing the fig tree, Jesus relates a parable about a man (symbolizing God) who planted a vineyard (symbolizing Israel and Judah), turning it over to some husbandmen (symbolizing the religious leaders who were responsible for the education of the nation), who later proved to be unfaithful, beating the owners servants (symbolizing the prophets) and killing the owner's son (symbolizing Jesus Christ). The responsibility for tending the vineyard was removed from those wicked husbandmen (symbolizing the priests and Pharisees) and given to new servants who would tend it faithfully, bringing about quality fruit replacing physical Israel with the Israel of God- or the Church. If the Church fails in its responsibility, God will take it away again and give it to someone who will bring forth fruit. When God gives us a responsibility, He gives us all the tools we need to carry it out as well as the freedom to decide how best to do it. God wants to see how we do with what we have been given. As future kings, we must learn how to solve problems. We are going to be accountable for the outcome. Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God will either be a sanctuary or a stumbling block or grinding stone to those leaders, peoples, or nations He encounters. We cannot allow the cares of the world to run interference with our calling. Spiritual goals, including nurturing our spouses and families, have to come first. Prayer and Bible study must be regarded as our lifeblood in establishing a relationship with God. Walking by faith (rather than walking by sight) will help us establish the right priorities. Our betrothal to Christ at this time does not have a specific date for the actual marriage; we must be prepared at all times. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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