Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Despite the many millions who profess to be Christians in this world, throughout most of its existence, the church of God has been small and scattered. Jesus calls His disciples a "little flock" ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
Gary Garrett, focusing on the "bitter water" episode in Exodus 15:22-25, explains the symbolism behind the bitter water of the spring, the tree, and the sanctification process. The bitter water represents the culture of Egypt which God had not yet extricated from the Israelites, an amalgamation of bitterness of bondage and the joy of deliverance. God still had to cleanse their consciences of acquired sinful habits, analogous to God's putting us through the sanctification process now. The tree represents Jesus Christ (the root and shoot of Jesse) and the Tree of Life—His Words for our spiritual growth and maturity. When ingested, the water cleansed by God's Holy Spirit leads us to a happy and productive life. The object lessons we learn in the sanctification process (the learned habits of resisting sin) will enable us to follow our Elder Brother and Savior who learned by the things He suffered.
David Grabbe, describing an incident where a zealous Pentecostal persisted in laying hands of healing on his wife, misapplying the 'command' in Mark 16:14 as her license, avers that this verse is not a command at all, and does not apply to all readers, God does not give every Christian the gift of healing, casting out of demons, interpreting tongues, and preaching. God gifted Peter with the authority to lay hands upon the sick, but this gift did not extend to all the saints, as is seen with the resurrection of Tabitha. The saints waited for Peter to arrive and did not presume to lay hands on her themselves. There is a diversity of gifts in I Corinthians 12, but not everyone in the Body has the same gifts. The references in scripture to Elders in the congregation do not apply to the hoary head, but to those whom God has ordained to function as overseers of the flock. It is unwise for anyone in the flock to presumptuously attempt to use gifts he has not received from God.
One of the last of Jesus' miracles was the healing of blind Bartimaeus near Jericho about a week before His arrest. Martin Collins shows that Jesus' compassion for the man's blindness points to His compassion for all those who are spiritually blind, a compassion He proved by giving His life to pay the penalty for sin.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Christ died to free us from fear of eternal death, reminds us that we nevertheless have the obligation to prepare for our physical death. When Jesus Christ holds the power over fear of death, we are delivered from the bondage of the terror of eternal death. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon gives a series of "this is better than that" observations, with the common denominator that wisdom seems to carry more sadness and sorrow than mirth or foolishness, placing a higher value on rebuke than on praise. Even a rebuke from an enemy, which may rouse our anger or resentment, may be valuable for our character development. Both David and our Savior Jesus Christ endured rebuke without retaliating. Retaliation as a response to rebuke is a sure sign of character deficit. Some counsel resembles the useless fuel function of thorns—a quick burst of light, but very little heat. Accepting rebuke often takes more humility than we may have. Rebuke from a wise or righteous person, though painful, is motivated by love and caring concern. The Book of Ecclesiastes was written for converted people, not for the world. Only through a proper perspective of the reality of physical (and eternal) death can a person actually prepare for his ultimate fate. The apostle Paul could not have grown spiritually if he had not received a series of painful rebukes, accompanied by a low quality of life. Paul was able to see the big picture, realizing the end was better than the beginning as long as he was faithful. Because of his faithful endurance of godly rebuke, Paul's reputation following his death transcended anything he experienced in his lifetime.
In this miraculous event recorded in Luke 14:1-6, Jesus deliberately heals a man with dropsy on the Sabbath at the house of a chief Pharisee. Martin Collins shows that Jesus was teaching them an unmistakable lesson about the purpose of the Sabbath day: It is a day to perform acts of loving service to others, especially to those in need.
As was His custom, Jesus attended and/or taught at a synagogue on the weekly Sabbath, and on one occasion, He noticed a severely deformed women, bent nearly double, in the audience. In His profound compassion, He healed her of this infirmity, which had plagued her for eighteen years. Martin Collins expands on the details of the gospel narratives on this merciful miracle.
The gospels provide many accounts of Jesus healing the sick, and it seems that there are almost as many methods that He used to heal them, from speaking a word to touching them to smearing clay on their eyes. Martin Collins considers Christ's method of healing a deaf-mute man, extracting spiritual lessons applicable to us today.
Matthew 9:27-31 contains the story of two blind men whom Jesus healed. These men are certain that Jesus can heal them, showing their faith, but they do not have enough faith to obey His command not to tell anyone about it. Martin Collins analyzes the healing of these two men, who did not let their handicap keep them from seeking Christ.
Jesus' healing of the woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years is unique among His miraculous healings in that He healed her without speaking a word. Martin Collins explains the woman's genuine faith and how Jesus used the occasion to bring glory to God.
John Ritenbaugh, distinguishing the terms freedom and liberty, suggests that Christian liberty is far more restrained than the word freedom would connote. Mainstream Christianity often obscures the major emphasis of God's purpose in our lives, focusing on a genie in a bottle endlessly showering miracles. God deliberately put His chosen people through testing, trails, and deprivation to see what they would do and how they would respond to His laws. Building character and conforming to Christ's image requires suffering, privations, testing, and trials, including the degradation of slavery. We are still suffering under the bondage of sin. Through God's grace, we are provided liberty with specified limits and boundaries. Grace is not the entire story, especially after we leave Egypt. We are to deny worldly lusts, putting out sin, having been obliged to live in godliness, preparing to live in good works. Consequently, grace places limits on our freedom, training us for our future life in the Kingdom of God. Our behavior must be clearly distinguishable from the non-believers in society. We cannot emulate our forebears, who although freed from Egypt, maintained their slave mentality, immersed in their worldly lusts, rebelling before they even commenced through the Red Sea, grumbling about their diet. We must desire the life-giving manna, the Bread of Life, namely the instruction provided through God's Word, producing good conduct and good life, keeping us from the bondage of sin. We need to be continually packing our minds with the Truth of God, fortifying our goal of attaining the Kingdom of God.
In the healing of the centurion's servant, Jesus commends the centurion for his faith. This Roman officer seems to have understood an aspect of God's authority and power that even most Israelites never realized. Martin Collins contends that many Christians today still do not fully comprehend the power of God's Word.
The healing of the centurion's servant is significant in that it is one of only two miracles that Jesus did for Gentiles, and He is especially taken with the Roman officer's faith. Martin Collins shows that, along with his faith, the centurion also shows great compassion and humility, so rare even among Israelites.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the tendency of society to prescribe drugs for every social malady, indicates that we often fail to see that the chastening we receive may be what God uses to sanctify us, preparing us as His spiritual children. When God starts a project, He finishes it; we must assiduously emulate that trait. If we are not receiving God's correction or chastisement, we should be alarmed. As Job was chastised by God, he learned submission and acquiescence, humility, silence, repentance, and that he had not seen the omnipotence of God. Chastisement focuses more on discipline and training than punishment. God uses circumstances such as financial loss or illness to steer us toward sanctification. Without godly chastisement, we may succumb to spiritual pride, self-confidence, self-satisfaction or smugness, but with godly chastisement, we attain humility, meekness, strength under control, and patience.
During His ministry, Jesus healed many people. The apostle John chose to highlight the healing of a crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. Martin Collins covers the significance of the pool itself, Christ's choice in healing this particular man, and the curious question He put to him.
David C. Grabbe: During these restless days in the church of God, it is common for us to wonder when the really exciting things are going to begin happening, what God is doing now, and where He is working. ...
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.
Jesus' healing of the leper in Mark 1:40-45 exhibits His compassion for those suffering the repulsive effects of sin. Martin Collins examines how the cleansing of this horribly diseased man parallels the spiritual cleansing that prepares us for salvation.
The leper who approached Jesus for healing provides us a good example of how we, too, can come before Him for help. Martin Collins examines five vital character traits that we can learn to apply in seeking God's aid.
Leprosy is a horrible, disfiguring disease, one that the ancients said could only be cured by an act of God Himself. Martin Collins shows that Jesus' healing of a leper manifested His divine power and mercy.
Jesus had served the people all day, but that evening, when He entered Simon Peter's house, He found He had one more miracle to perform. Martin Collins dissects the healing of Peter's wife's mother, showing that it contains a pointed lesson about gratitude and service.
Leprosy is a gruesome disease, in which an infected person progressively rots and falls to pieces before his eyes. The leper's healing by Jesus teaches that, while Jesus freely healed the man, his cleansing was not really free, and the gift he was told to present to the priests contains vital instruction for all.
We may look around the church of God and wonder why so many are not being healed. Geoff Preston, suffering a chronic illness himself, uses his experiences to assure us that God is working out even these matters for our good.
A striking aspect of Jesus' ministry is the sheer number and extent of miraculous healings He performed. Though He did not heal all the sick in the land, He healed everyone who sincerely sought His aid. Martin Collins looks at our Savior's healing miracles, His methods, and His motives in doing them.
An outstanding feature of Christ's ministry is the many astounding miracles that He performed throughout Judea and Galilee. Martin Collins proposes that Jesus' miracles did far more than merely excite His audience: They declared the Source of His power and His message.
John Ritenbaugh insists that God's promise to heal (spiritually or physically) is inextricably coupled with the obligation to exercise responsibility, demonstrating physical and spiritual works in accordance with existing laws, while trusting in God throughout the healing process. The Bible is replete with individuals applying physical remedies (balms, poultices, as well as a competent physician's counsel) in tandem with trusting God. We cannot (in the manner of Asa and Ahaziah) leave God out of any process in our lives. As we pursue healing, we must 1) first seek God, 2) begin working on the solution, seeking wise counsel, 3) repent from the sin that has caused the malady, and 4) ardently obey God's laws, requiring works. Complying with these conditions, all who trust God will be healed in His time and His manner. Exercising faith in healing is in no way passive. God is creating problem solvers—not problem continuers.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the necessity of work (dressing and keeping our life, our health, our possessions, our calling, etc.). God has called us to a lifetime of productive work. We cannot allow Satan to cause us to resent working or to feel victimized, slighted, bitter, or lazy, rejecting God's ordained purpose for us—creating obedient children who work as He does. It takes hard work to live up to the virtues of God; it does not happen automatically. Living by faith requires patience but certainly not passivity; it requires that we work toward a God-ordained purpose (of which we currently do not entirely see the outcome). Both spiritual and physical healing require us to work intensely, asking for God's merciful intervention while actively working toward a solution, exercising wisdom and common sense as we consider the array of possible procedures.
John Ritenbaugh uses an impelling example of some Ukrainian Jews who applied foresight and sacrifice to escape from the impending onslaught of the Nazis, saving themselves from certain destruction. The sermon then focuses upon the dangers of sloth and procrastination, coupled with the effects of the second law of thermodynamics (the tendency of all physical matter to break down). If we as Christians fail to dress and keep, cultivating, embellishing, and improving what has been entrusted to us (including our bodies and health), we are equivalent to a destroyer. Fighting the forces of decay - a continuous struggle of overcoming planned for us by almighty God - requires constant, life-long work and vigilance. We should never delude ourselves that we are "innocent victims" of our own sins or destructive habits. We have a sobering responsibility to analyze our health needs, continually adjusting and changing as we learn, faithfully maintaining the temple of God's Spirit.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Few things are more personal and vital to individuals than their health. ...
Martin Collins maintains that mainstream Christianity does not know who God the Father really is, seeing Him as a relatively ineffectual third Member of a closed Trinity, largely responsible for harnessing mankind with a harsh oppressive law that Jesus later annulled. Jesus Christ, designated as the logos, Spokesman or Word, reveals that the Father (the Creator and Sustainer of the universe) has always had supreme authority, and that He and His Father are absolutely at one in purpose. The Father is totally composed of spirit, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. His purpose or plan is to call individuals, regenerating them with His Spirit and instilling His changeless statutes into their minds, to transform them into members of His Family. We need to conform to the image of the Father Jesus revealed to us.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: This past week I have literally been sick and tired. ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
Laying on of hands is a strange subject to most, especially to the nonchristian. However, it is one of the church's fundamental doctrines and plays a large role in baptism, healing and ordination.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
In our information culture where "seeing is believing" and we want "just the facts, Ma'am," it is difficult to have faith in anything we can't take in by the five senses. Richard Ritenbaugh shows the vital importance of establishing iron clad trust in God for spiritual matters (salvation, forgiveness, healing) rather than having a misguided, foolish, idolatrous trust in self or trust in other human beings (individually or collectively)- just as frail and mortal as we are. For most of us, our faith or trust is badly misplaced. Trust comes about by cultivating an intimate relationship with God (through prayer, Bible study and meditating-exercising His Holy Spirit) establishing a proven track record of shared experiences.
Unlike the deplorable picture presented in the world's religions depicting God as a helpless, effeminate, maudlin, hand-wringing sentimentalist, desperately trying to save the world, repeatedly frustrated and thwarted by Satan, John Ritenbaugh brings into sharp focus the proper picture of God as governor, manager, and controller of all nations from the big picture to the minutest detail, having elaborate back-up plans and fail-safe mechanisms. Nothing and no one can thwart God's purposes. None of us, in or out of the body of Christ, have any control over the gifts, powers, experiences, or events that He prescribes for us. We need to develop the faith to yield and conform to His will as clay in the potter's hands.
Many people divide sin into physical and spiritual sins, but the Bible clearly says that all sin is lawlessness! Richard Ritenbaugh explains I John 3:4 in its first-century, Gnostic context.
Jesus Christ, our Savior, commands Christians as His disciples to participate in the annual Passover memorial of His work on our behalf. The service consists of three parts: 1) Mutual footwashing; 2) Drinking of the wine; 3) Eating of the bread.
John Ritenbaugh poses the question of whether technology really improves our character or quality of life. Are we really better people because we ride around in cars rather than walk? Technology, because of the spin it puts on expectations, can be a great source of discouragement and disillusionment when applying this heightened sense of expectation to God's seemingly slow and deliberate performance. Technology makes us susceptible to the 'quick fix' mentality, expecting dramatic miraculous solutions to all problems, making us susceptible to frauds and even deceptive demonic influence (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13). When it comes to developing character, a quick fix miracle will not substitute for patient overcoming. God only works miracles consistent with His purpose (bearing witness to truth), not for any selfish desires on our part.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that it is constant earnest praying which keeps faith alive and makes certain the receiving of every one of the qualities which make us in the image of God. Like Enoch, we must walk with God as a way of life, seeking Him out and talking with Him on a continual basis. A person maturing in faith would always pray in consistency and alignment with God's purpose. We always have to understand that God's purpose comes first, not our request. If we walk with God daily, God will provide us patience and insight into the meaning of our trials, and how they work out His ultimate purpose. In removing mountains, we must focus more on the reality of God than on the mountain.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode of the healing of the man blind from birth and the resultant threats imposed upon the man and his family by the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The man, healed by Jesus but persecuted and disfellowshipped by the Pharisees, realized God was responsible for the miracle. One can conclude that the closer we get to God, the more likely we will have persecution; but the closer we get to Him, the greater and more real He becomes and the more likely we will serve Him correctly. When Christ opens our eyes and cleanses us from our impurities, our behavior impacts those around us, leading to some bewilderment and persecution, but incrementally toward greater knowledge of God. Seemingly, only a person conscious of his blindness (weakness or lacks) will make an effort to overcome. In chapter ten, the shepherd/sheep analogy demonstrates the importance of the sheep "knowing the Master's voice" in the midst of a community corral having many diverse flocks. The gate or door of the corral (as symbolized by Christ) connotes security, tranquility, and order, protecting the flock from thieves and predators (metaphorically representing false prophets and false doctrine). Christ takes responsibility for caring for His flock (who over the years have become His intimate companions), including laying down His very life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.
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 focuses upon the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, perhaps an exemplification of the entire unconverted world, but also symbolic of a church, initially hardened, self-willed and skeptical when called out of the world, but afterwards zealous and energized when enlightened by the truth. As Jesus revealed Himself to her and exposed the disgusting details of her past, so God does the same thing to us when we are called. As the woman had to be drawn away from false concepts of worship, we must be weaned away from poisonous superstitions and false doctrine polluting our worship of God. Only those who attain the Spirit of God within their inner beings will worship God in spirit and in truth. Spiritual sacrifices include humility, fidelity, and service. As the woman had to be diverted from using the living water for selfish purposes, we must learn to derive satisfaction from serving others, emulating Christ's example of becoming energized by doing the work of God, planting and reaping the spiritual harvest.
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.]
John Ritenbaugh distinguishes a temple from a synagogue, indicating that there was but one temple in Jerusalem, a monument to God, having very little preaching, but many synagogues in each town. Jesus taught in their synagogues in services which contained formalized prayers and readings from the scripture. Following the readings, a sermon was given either by the ruler of the synagogue or someone he deemed worthy, even though the person may not have had formalized ecclesiastical training. Except for the ruler of the synagogue, there didn't seem to be a formal minister. Preaching was intended to be general, providing overview, while the teaching was intended to be specific, providing details. Matthew provides systematic order and structure to his Gospel. Matthew's encapsulation of the Beatitudes, the essence (perhaps the distillation or compendium of many sermons) of Jesus Christ's teaching, contains the foundation of His teaching through the entirety of His ministry. It would be entirely possible to make a sermon from each one of the verses from Matthew 5-7. The various themes are presented in different contexts in Luke's account, indicating a perennial theme. Luke set things down in chronological order; Matthew set things down in topical or thematic order. The seriousness of the teaching can be illustrated by Jesus sitting down to teach. The beatitudes, attitudes directed way from self are intended to provide an antidote for depression and sorrow now and in the future, bringing a state of happiness and bliss, totally unattached from physical things or circumstances, but bubbles up from within deriving from divine favor- a gift from God. Poor in spirit connotes more absolute trust in and submission to God rather than abject poverty or financially impoverished. Mourning or sadness is good to make us see cause and effect and make the heart better; when things go wrong, we are driven to think and look for solutions. Godly pain
Millions lack faith to receive answers to their prayers—to free their minds from fears and worries. To a large extent this is due to lack of understanding what faith is. Read this simple but thorough explanation of the subject.