John Ritenbaugh claims that millions of people who believe they are in contact with God are hopelessly deceived about Him in five essential ways: They do not understand (1) what causes estrangement between God and mankind, (2) that God under no circumstances can ever lie, (3) that no one seeks God, (4) that no one ever chooses God, but God exclusively does the choosing, and (5) that God's gift is not a question of human will. Exercising carnal human nature, an unconverted individual can never bring himself into favor with God. Every human being deserves to die. God selectively grants mercy and punishment to individuals based upon His divine plan. God's pronouncements are inscrutable to most of us, such as His decision to deny Moses, a model servant, entry into the Promised Land. God does not love everybody to the same degree, choosing whom He will favor (Jacob) and reject (Esau). In John 3:16, the world that God loves are His own converted children, all of whom were once children of wrath, with a death sentence hanging over their heads. Even though the way God exercises His sovereignty is to us inscrutable, calling the foolish to confound the wise, hiding the truth from the wise, but revealing it to babes, all He does fits perfectly into His master plan. As God's called-out ones, we must trust that Father knows best.
Martin Collins asserts that miracles and signs from God, while certainly generating awe and fear, seldom lead to righteousness, but more likely to continued rebellion. Jesus points out that only an adulterous generation seeks after miracles and signs. No greater period of miracles took place in history than at the time of the Exodus, including the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Yet, the stiff-necked Israelites rebelled against God on ten separate occasions. The longest period of growth and stability in Israel occurred under David's and Solomon's reigns, a period attended by no miracles. Elijah and Elisha performed godly miracles during a massive apostasy. John the Baptist, proclaimed by Jesus as the greatest of men, performed no miracles whatsoever. The miracles and signs Jesus performed were received with awe, but also with much ridicule and scoffing from the religious leaders. Axiomatically, the spiritually weak need miracles; the more spiritually mature one becomes, the fewer signs and wonders he needs to sustain faith. God blessed the Corinthian congregation with spiritual gifts (of discerning prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, etc.), but the vanity which these gifts produced led to party-spirit and jealousy. In the future, the False Prophet and Beast will lead many astray by miracles and signs, deceiving most of the world. As God's called-out ones, walking humbly with God should displace any desperate need for signs and wonders.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the trek through the Red Sea occurred on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, points out that other historical events also occurred on that day, including the toppling of the walls of Jericho and the healing of the lame man near the Pool of Bethsaida, after his having endured his infirmity 38 years. The ancient Israelites moved in the desert but had made no progress in getting Egypt out of their hearts. When God restored Israel through Joshua, He gave them credit for the time that had walked, indicating that in all cases, He was doing virtually all the heavy lifting, but was demanding that the Israelites exercise faith, doing something concrete to indicate their willingness to participate in the covenant. The walls of Jericho were, in effect, already history when Joshua's men began their march around the city. When we make our covenant with God, we must move forward exercising faith, doing our part in the overcoming/ sanctification process, realizing God is in charge of the entire process.
When we study, it is always a good practice to study a verse or passage in context. The Parable of the Cloth and the Wineskins is a good example of why we should do this, since the parable concludes a much longer narrative. David Grabbe provides an overview of the context and then uses it to draw deeper meaning and application from the parable.
When Jesus healed the crippled man by a Jerusalem pool, His Jewish critics were more interested in attacking Jesus for healing on the Sabbath than in rejoicing that a lame man had been made whole. Martin Collins probes this hypocrisy, Jesus' instruction to the healed man, and the man's response to the Jews.
When Jesus heals the paralytic, He makes no bones about the fact that He, as the Son of Man, has the prerogative to forgive sin. Martin Collins explains how forgiveness and healing intersect in this awesome miracle of God's power and mercy.
The healing of the paralytic in Capernaum is a remarkable witness of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God. Martin Collins explains that Jesus honors the faith of the paralytic's four friends who lowered him through the roof, illustrating that the faith of others can be instrumental in bringing sinners to Christ.
John Ritenbaugh contends that while Scripture does allow for individuals to share their faults with one another for encouragement and brotherly advice, no man has the power to forgive sins or grant absolution, a prerogative retained by Christ and God the Father alone. Trusting human allies rather than God to also seems to be a main theme of Lamentations. An acrostic poem with highly structured multiple meters, Lamentations mimics the agitated talk of someone uncontrollably sobbing or crying. Personified as a grieved widow, Jerusalem recounts her sins as a nation, depending on her own strength or on her lovers (political alliances representing spiritual harlotry) rather than upon God, her Husband. Like Ezekiel, Lamentations also applies to modern Israel, which also has the faithless tendency to form adulterous political alliances with other nations rather than rely upon God, bringing the curse of captivity and mocking scorn.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the woman at the well in John 4 could easily represent the church, initially called out of the world in an immoral state, having a confrontation with Christ leading to an insight into ones own sins, ultimately bringing about total repentance or change in behavior, resulting in going out and leading others to Christ. The second sign in the book of John, the healing of the nobleman's son reveals that God will heal those who demonstrate ardent desire, humility, submission, and trust. The healing of the man at Bethesda also indicated an intensity of desire, a determined effort to obey Christ's command, and a cooperative effort on the part of the person being healed. With healing automatically comes the responsibility to change behavior and repent. Jesus takes the opportunity to impress upon the Pharisees the difference between works that cause burdens (work that profanes the Sabbath) and works that relieve burdens or extend mercy. God the Father and Jesus Christ never cease working for the well being of creation.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 9:2-9 recounts an event in which an evangelist criticized Herbert W. Armstrong for suggesting that healing constitutes a forgiveness of sin. The effects of sin on successive generations are clearly seen in Exodus 20:5. Sin causes disease, but the person who becomes sick does not necessarily commit the sin. Because God alone can forgive sin, God alone can heal. Matthew, a former publican, was nevertheless made an apostle by Jesus Christ. Matthew's need to overcome stands in stark contrast to the Pharisees smug condemnatory righteousness. Christianity is a joyous experience we share with Christ. The reactionary Pharisees, bogged down with manmade traditions, were extremely resistant to new truth and change. Human nature is passionately attached to the status quo. Consequently, the new teachings of Christ are incompatible with the teachings we learned from our parents or society. Even with our inadequacies, Jesus will nevertheless grant us our requests if they are according to God's will. We should remember that the best teaching is always done through example. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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