John Reiss: Here in the United States, we are rapidly approaching our nation's Independence Day. It was two hundred and forty-one years ago, on July 2, 1776—not July 4 as many people believe ...
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that sometimes the pace of the Feast of Tabernacles can be wearying, reminds us that God has commanded His people to rejoice and to develop a beneficial fear and respect for Him. Enjoying the feast to the hilt physically does not necessarily mean we had a good feast. If we do nothing to make a fine feast for someone else, we probably will not have a good feast. God commanded the Israelites to offer more sacrifices at the Feast of Tabernacles than at all the other Holy Days combined. We attain spiritual regeneration by participation. After the Babylonian captivity, people felt more inclined to serve than before, having cultivated a new appreciation for what they had lost—namely, God's precious law. Just because we are keeping God's festivals does not necessarily mean we are in sync with God's Law or His purpose for our lives. God commissioned Amos to write a powerful, stirring message to the ten northern tribes, warning them to prepare to meet their God and to change the attitudes which were polluting God's feasts. Israel, in the time of Amos, had drifted into the same moral cesspool as the modern Israelitish nations have today, laden down with corruption and bloodshed, just as America's Supreme Court has made sodomy and murder the law of the land. Amos warned against exalting symbolism over substance, clinging to Bethel as a religious shrine, while neglecting the fact that Bethel was the location where God renamed Jacob to Israel. God wants each of us individually to go through the same transformation as our father Jacob—from conniving schemer to a totally converted and submissive servant.
If we were asked to list the reasons for the recent decline of the United States, we would probably reply that, among others, poor leadership is a primary cause. John Ritenbaugh asks us to consider that God is putting us through exercises to create leaders in His image. His covenants are a primary tool in this process.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the Church is unique in that it does not believe God's Law has been done away, warns that the governments and culture of the offspring of Jacob suffer from a dearth of leadership, dramatizing the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson that "an institution is but the lengthened shadow of one man." The book of Isaiah was written in Judah, castigating the people for their lack of leadership, but the book of Ezekiel was written to the House of Israel, long after the Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity, intended for the modern nations of Israel. Individually, we must become leaders in our own families, protecting them from the curse and scourge that is already falling on our nation. We have the solemn obligation to fear God, to refrain from being hypocrites, and to thoroughly repent, allowing ourselves to become pliable clay in God's hands. In this context, we must: (1) establish that the covenants are a gift from God, designed for our freedom, (2) understand that a covenant is a legal agreement between us and the unseen God, (3) understand that the covenant is not cold and legalistic, and (4) understand the Covenant was offered by the True God, who has never failed in His obligations. The New Covenant, promised in Hebrews 8:10 for the entire nation, has commenced as a forerunner in the Israel of God. As Christ's affianced Bride, God's called-out ones must not emulate the example of physical Judah and Israel, who shamelessly committed adultery (which is spiritual pornea—absorbing Pagan idolatrous practice), but must remain chaste in the keeping of the Covenants. Breaking God's covenant is the equivalent of adultery.
Bill Onisick, reminding us that we have experienced a taste of the Millennium, announces with the blast of the shofar that freedom and liberty will abound with the approach of the 50th year Jubilee. People will be released from their debts and land will be returned to its original owner. The Jubilee was designed to keep the family whole. When Israel went into captivity, God provided a land Sabbath for the land they had left behind. The Jubilee provided guardrails to prevent them from obsessing about acquiring wealth. In Jesus Christ's inaugural message, He trumpeted the arrival of the Jubilee Year, preaching deliverance to those in bondage to sin, and to restore oneness so that God can be all in all. We must be holy as God is holy. Through God's foresight, He built the Sabbath to give us God-confidence. When we keep the Jubilee, we must trust God to provide. When Satan is removed, we will have ultimate universal freedom. Can we hear the sound of the Jubilee shofar in our lives?
Austin Del Castillo, recalling a dream in which monk-like apparitions asked him, "Are you are free as you think?" reminds us that the only way to achieve true freedom is through affiliation with our great Father in heaven. The Pharisees who confronted Jesus were living in a fantasy land, believing that they had never been in bondage to anyone, forgetting that their forbears had lived 400 years serving the Pharaoh and their contemporaries were under bondage to the Romans as well as under abject bondage to sin, as is all of mankind. Sadly, independence, as practiced by many, is actually a form of enslavement to the carnal lusts and pulls of human nature. Our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, was no 'independent,' but was totally aligned with God the Father's purposes. Ideas of independence apart from God emanate from carnal human nature which is aligned to the rebellious mind of Satan. Being 'independent' is a false freedom which does not produce healthful fruits of repentance, but only gratifies carnal lust. Robinson's Richard Cory had unfathomable riches, but no relationship with God. The Ultimate Power in the universe wants us in His Kingdom; all we have to do is yield to God and allow Him to calibrate us.
Martin Collins, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread dramatize the difficulty of our perpetual lifelong struggle to extricate ourselves from the bondage of sin, points out that the despicable institution of human slavery has been perpetually with us, and is still practiced today around the world, whether we speak of sex slaves, sweat shops, or cultural caste systems. Consequently, there are 30 million people living in slavery around the world, with 14 million slaves living in India, and an estimated 60,000 slaves in the United States today. In theApostle Paul's time, 60 million slaves lived in the Roman Empire, with strict laws enforced in order to discourage revolt. Runaway slaves were branded with an "F-U-G" on their forehead, becoming the etymology of the word "fugitive." Although Paul was powerless to attack the system of slavery, he tried to neutralize its evil within the church, advocating that slave owners relinquish the owner-property relationship to a brother-brother relationship. Paul appealed to Philemon to develop this kind of relationship after his slave Onesimus ran away, stealing his money, running to Rome to assist Paul during his imprisonment. Paul wrote a humble, brotherly, diplomatic letter to his old friend Philemon, offering to pay a substitutionary debt for Onesimus if he would treat him as if he were Paul himself. Apparently, Philemon obliged, and the once lowly slave Onesimus evidently became a profitable bishop in his later life, paying back Paul's and Philemon's trust, demonstrating generosity and Christian hospitality. We learn from Onesimus that the Christian is not to run away from his past, but instead to rise above it, making overcoming more of a conquest than an escape. Like Paul's assumption of Onesimus' debt, Christ took our sins on His account and put His righteousness on our account. As an heir with Christ, our bondage is only temporary until we are resurrected as family members of the God Family.
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.
The episode of the healing of the man born blind takes up an entire chapter of the book of John, signalling its importance in understanding the work of Christ. Martin Collins discusses the blind man's response to Jesus, the part the Sabbath plays in the healing, and the ubiquity of opposition to true Christians.
Charles Whitaker: In the essay two weeks ago, we considered the spiritual state of the people dwelling in caves in the apostle John's vision recorded in Revelation 6:15-17: "And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, ...
Sometimes it is difficult to see how unique each one of us is among the nearly seven billion people on earth. John Ritenbaugh explains, however, that we are not only physically unique, but we are also spiritually unique through God's calling and by our receipt of His Holy Spirit. Our special position before God gives us an equally unique opportunity that we do not want to squander.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
Terrorism is frequently in the news these days, and seeing it, we abhor the acts of terrorists as cruelty and violence against unsuspecting civilians. David Maas, however, wonders if we may be causing just as much destruction as the average terrorist through negligence and passivity.
John Ritenbaugh gives statistics from an army quartermaster who calculated the logistics of supplying food, shelter, and water for 2-3 million Israelites on their 40 year trek across the Red Sea and the wilderness—a task only an omnipotent God could fulfill. As was true in the physical journey of ancient Israel and the spiritual journey of the Israel of God, we have the powerful assurance that God will never leave nor forsake us. When God parted the Red Sea, the problems did not disappear. On our spiritual journey, once we have the benefits of Christ's Passover sacrifice applied to us, our problems do not instantly disappear. Our position is just as precarious as ancient Israel, if not more precarious. As ancient Israel was called out of Egypt, we are called out of spiritual Egypt. We have been in abject bondage to the world‚s corrupt systems and our own carnal desires, having lived our entire lives under Satan's dominion. Christ stated His intention in Luke 4 to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to recover the sight to the blind, and to set them at liberty. Jesus explains that the truth is the only thing that will set us free. A major player in our lives or spiritual journey is the truth and how we use it. Though Christ does not do our overcoming for us, He gives us abundant resources to accomplish this daunting task. He gives us in addition to the assurance that He will never abandon us as we struggle in our journey to the Promised Kingdom of God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies that, in terms of salvation, grace and works are mutually exclusive (Ephesians 2:8-10), but good works are the result (or the fruits) of God's creative efforts. Grace frees one; works prove that one has been freed. Grace (or the gift of God) enables us to have a clear enlightened perception of God (I Corinthians 2:7-11) and delivers us from the enormity of our sins (Romans 5:15-17), freeing us and gifting us (Romans 12:3-5; I Corinthians 12:4-11) to do works consistent with God's law. Grace (given only to those who believe) frees us in order to keep the law, not to exempt us from keeping it (Romans 3:21-25).
In this sermon on the significance of the Day of Atonement, Richard Ritenbaugh teaches that on this day we do no work because most of the work of atonement is done by God Almighty. We fast, afflicting our souls, reminding us how much we depend upon God both physically and spiritually, enabling us to lighten our loads and other people's loads. Fasting puts us in a proper humble and contrite frame of mind, allowing God to respond to us, freeing us from our burdens and guiding us into His Kingdom and His family.
The fourth commandment is the one that most people think is least important, but in reality it may be one of the most important! John Ritenbaugh explains the Sabbath commandment and its vital teaching.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Old Covenant in no way annulled the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, but was added because of Israel's sins, with the intent of pointing to the need of a Savior. Because the primary focus of Galatians is justification rather than sanctification, the Protestant antinomian bias looks quite foolish and stupid. The New Covenant, grafting the Law into the recesses of the heart (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16) in no way does away with any aspect of the law. The deficit in the Old Covenant was in its lack of a means of justification (forgiveness of past sins). The New Covenant, having a means of justification, replaces the pre-figuring symbolic animal sacrifices with the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah. Circumcision of the heart and the receipt of God's Holy Spirit ratifies the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the days, months, and times referred to in Galatians 4:10 do not refer to Jewish Holy Days or the law of God, but to Pagan Gnostic rites connected with the worship of demons. To refer to the liberating law of God as weak and beggarly constitutes rank blasphemy. To use Galatians as an antinomian tract denigrating God's holy and righteous law creates a hypocritical dichotomy- in which Paul, while keeping the law, allegedly urged the people not to keep it. Paul, as a light to the Gentiles, kept the Sabbath and the rest of God's law in the middle of gentile territory (Acts 18:11, 13:44) indicating that neither the Sabbath nor any other aspect of God's law had been done away. The target of Paul's wrath was Gnostic asceticism, which was syncretized with both extra- biblical Judaistic and Pagan elements.
Oskar Schindler was determined to rescue as many Jews as possible from the horrors of the Final Solution. God acts in a similar way with His people. Mark Schindler explains.
God has invited us into a love relationship--one in which He has already shown Himself to be absolutely faithful. If we truly love Him, severing our affections with this world, we will meet the demands of becoming holy. God's Holy Spirit enables us to have this love (Romans 5:5), but we must actively use it or lose it. We must seek God as ardently as we would a physical love relationship, spending quality time with Him. If we make no effort to pursue this relationship, it cools. Similarly, unfaithfulness (idolatry) will destroy it. Obedience (expressing our love toward God and proving that we trust Him) will strengthen this relationship, giving us a higher quality, more abundant life and increased blessings.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that physically emancipating people from slavery does not automatically unshackle their hearts or minds or preparing them for productive responsibility in a free society. Likewise, our emancipation from sin does not automatically remove our acquired spiritual shackles. We must gradually grow out of the slave mentality into liberty and freedom by committing our lives to the truth (John 8:30; Romans 8:6), replacing acquired insecurity and fear with faith and the love of God (I John 4:18). Like our forefather Abraham, we have to gradually or incrementally grow into a model of faithfulness. God's Spirit provides us the mechanism for transforming our enslaved, fearful, carnal minds to liberty (II Corinthians 3:17).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the dual purpose for the Sabbath consists of (1) a memorial of God's physical creation and (2) a memorial of our redemption from bondage. Bondage is the consequence of rejecting or neglecting the Sabbath. Far from doing away with the Sabbath, Jesus magnified the Sabbath, giving us principles enabling us to judge our activities. On the seven occasions where the Sabbath is the issue, Jesus emphasized some form of redemption, indicating that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free. While God rested from physical creation, spiritual creation continued, creating sons in His image. The Messiah's lawful work consisted of healing, redeeming, forgiving, and doing good. Our lawful Sabbath work consists of emulating Christ and committing ourselves to God's purpose.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that the Sabbath is the major means by which He protects His investment, the spiritual creation of His family. The Sabbath, far from being the least of the commandments, is a special creation, a very specific period of holy time (only God can set apart something as holy) given to all of mankind, reminding us that God does not stop creating, but elevates His attention to spiritual creation, providing us with unified instruction designed to free us from sin, celebrate life, develop a special relationship with Him, providing a major tool for our conversion, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. No other commandment so specifically defines God's purpose. Breaking the Sabbath is tantamount to idolatry.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God gave the Sabbath (a sanctified, set-apart period of recurring time) to His people in order that they come to know Him intimately, learning to live as He lives. Idolatry, scattering, and captivity have always been the natural consequences of Sabbath breaking. Freedom from bondage and liberty are the natural consequences of Sabbath keeping. God gives relatively few broad principles concerning how the Sabbath is to be kept. Our Elder Brother has given us specific examples of how to use Sabbath time properly, having begun His redemptive liberating ministry on the Sabbath and ending it on a preparation day. Christ emphasized the liberating or redemptive intent (or burden-relieving aspect) of the Sabbath. Acts of liberation or release from bondage occur frequently on the Sabbath Day. We need to follow our Elder Brother's example of relieving burdens.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the spiritual bondage (slavery to sin) Jesus referred to in John 8:34, warns against habitual sin- or sinning as a "way of life"- under the power, control, or influence of sin (graphically described by Paul in Romans 7:7-24.) As long as we are slaves of sin (following the dictates of our own lustful desires), we have no free moral agency. God liberates us from sin in order that we might be free to obey Him. Jesus warns the Pharisees that because righteousness and character cannot be transferred from one person to another, they cannot trust in their pedigree (as physical descendants of Abraham). Without the implanted Spirit of God, we have absolutely no capacity to receive or appreciate spiritual truth or to hear God's Word, allowing it to convict us, making an impact on our lives. The study concludes in John 9 with an examination into the healing of the man blind from birth, occurring near the Pool of Siloam.