Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that our culture has been oversaturated with Christmas paraphernalia, honoring Christ's supposed birth on December 25th, reminds us that God has never commanded us to commemorate the time of His birth, but instead to annually observe the time of his death. Many 'Christian' leaders embrace a celebration that has undeniably pagan roots, stemming from the winter solstice festivals, observing the rebirth of the sun. John Chrysostom, by miscalculating the course of Abijah, thought he had made a case for a December 25th birth of Christ. Baptist scholar, author, and pastor John Piper proclaims that he sympathizes with those rigorous Christians who are alarmed about the origin of Christmas having pagan roots, but suggests that the roots are so far gone that it does not matter. Piper contends that even if these roots connect Christmas to pagan worship, it is worth "the risk," to enshrine Christmas as a Christian holiday because we moderns have placed a more "sanctified" meaning on it. The difficulty with Piper's position is that neither he nor any other human can sanctify anything; only God has that prerogative.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the seven "I will" promises given to our forefather Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 were truly "big deal" foundational promises impacting the lives of multiple billions of lives up to the present day and that Abraham and that Abraham could fathom them only by calculating within his limited nervous system. Abraham calculated, adding things up in order to esteem those things which he learned to be truly important. To Abraham, God's words were a beacon, directing him how to live his life. Abraham believed in the counsel God gave him, redirecting his steps to accommodate this counsel, advice which all God's called-out ones are obliged to follow. Everything hinges on whether we, as our father Abraham, are willing to live by faith. When God read Abraham's mind, He found no skepticism, but found instead trust and faith, qualities we are to emulate. If we do not believe God, we will not submit to Him. We begin with faith, and the works automatically follow. Faith motivates us to keep the law, steering us away from the death penalty which is the automatic curse for disobeying the Law. Before God established the Old Covenant, a sign or guidepost anticipating the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, Abraham (as well as Abel and others before him, and David and others after him) realized that a promised Seed-an incarnation of God—would eventually emerge as a Savior, making possible the forgiveness of sins for all of Adam's offspring (Abraham's spiritual seed, which included the Gentiles) who would call on Him and follow His guidance and counsel.
Clyde Finklea shares an insight from Tom Kerry about an overlooked prophecy in Matthew 3:7-9, referring to the stones placed in the Jordan River by the priests in Joshua's time inscribed with the Law of God in some form—the book of Deuteronomy, the Ten Commandments, or perhaps the Blessings and the Curses—which would have resided near Bethabara (meaning, House of Crossing Over or House of Passing Over), the locale in which John baptized. Bethabara would have been the location where the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River, leading the people into the Promised Land, directly adjacent to the two famous mountains, Ebal and Gerizim, where the Blessings and Curses were recited. Joshua had commanded that twelve stones be brought to construct an altar in the dry Jordan River bed, stones which would serve as a memorial for the twelve tribes of Israel, upon which would be inscribed the words of the law. Bethabara would also have also been the venue John baptized Jesus, providing the means through which those whom God has chosen would become living stones joined to the Corner Stone which the builders mistakenly rejected. We, as God's called-out ones, are the living stones God would rise for Abraham, that is, in fulfilment of His promises to Abraham.
Despite the greatness of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus declares that none was greater than His cousin, John, known as "the Baptist." John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus clearly says that John fulfilled Malachi 4:5-6 as the prophesied Elijah to come.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the characteristics of a prophet, showing that both Moses and Aaron fulfilled this role. Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest of all the Old Covenant prophets, distinctive by his austere dress and diet. Highly esteemed by the common people, John was unusually vital and strong, and consciously prepared the way for the Messiah. Although by no means a wild man, John, like the prophets of old, experienced alienation from people, especially the entrenched religious and political leaders within the system. His greatness lay in 1) the office he filled, 2) the subject he proclaimed, 3) the manner in which he did it, and receding into the background, 4) the zeal in which he performed his office, 5) the courage he demonstrated, 6) his lifetime service, and 7) the number and greatness of his sacrifices, performed in the spirit and power of Elijah, by which he restored and repaired family values, enabling people to see God.
The Branch is a well-known Old Testament prophetic figure, identified as the Messiah by most people. Yet, is there more to it than that? Why is the Branch not mentioned in the New Testament? What does it mean to us?
The world claims Jesus was born December 25. But when was he really born? John Reid explains.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus was placed on trial not for what He did, but for what He claimed about Himself. John has provided at least eight separate forms of witness, establishing the veracity of Jesus Christ's identity as God in the flesh. Fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament (over 300 separate prophecies) concerning Christ's identity and the events of His life is overwhelming, compelling, and mathematically irrefutable (The chance of fulfilling only eight of those prophecies would be 1 in 10 to the 17th power or 100 quadrillion). John makes a compelling proposal for belief and faith. The last part of the first chapter of John focuses upon the work of John the Baptist, a physical cousin of Jesus, the forerunner of Christ, who witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ at His baptism, again establishing Christ's identity as the Lamb of God.
[Editor's note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 20min-50sec mark] John Ritenbaugh examines the sobering events that occurred the evening of Jesus Christ's final Passover as a man, including the bitter circumstances of His betrayal and the abandonment by His disciples. Jesus knew in advance who was to betray Him, but continued to work with Judas to the very end, trying to get him to repent, just as God gives each of us ample time to repent and turn around. Jesus changed the symbols of the Passover, making a distinction between the old and new covenants. In the Old Covenant, blood sacrifice involving the slaughter of lambs and the killing of the firstborn of Egypt was the cost of deliverance from physical bondage. In the New Covenant, the deliverance from our spiritual bondage and permanent oblivion was the sacrifice of God's own Son, symbolized by wine and broken bread (signifying His shed blood and His beaten body) sacrificed for the sins of all mankind. Although Jesus realized the deficiencies and weaknesses of His disciples, He looked sympathetically at them, placing His confidence in God to lead Him through the horrible trials He would endure. The emotions Jesus felt were real, experiencing every agony, fear, anguish, desperation, disappointment, terror and temptation all of us would experience, yet without sin, preparing Him to be our compassionate High Priest..[NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh delves into the apostles' inability to drive out the demon in Matthew 17 indicates that faith is not a constant factor; it will deteriorate if it not constantly exercised through persistent prayer and fasting. Rather than promoting living faith, modern Protestantism emphasizes escapism and good feelings. Jesus' example of paying the Temple Tax by having Peter work for it (catching a fish) provided a principle for us that we cannot expect a miracle unless we do our part (being willing to work). Matthew 18 delves into the topic of the essence of personal relations, including having (1) an attitude of humility, (2) a sense of duty or responsibility, (3) a sense of self-sacrifice, (4) personal attention and care, (5) knowledge about correcting a person who is wrong, (6) a predisposition to forgive, and a (7) willingness to forgive. In human relationships, cooperation seems to produce greater results than competition. Like children, we must develop humility, dependency upon God and trust. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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