John Ritenbaugh, re-iterating that internal evidence substantiates the high probability that the Apostle Paul authored the Book of Hebrews, stresses that Christ's ultimate goal is to bring the entire creation under the Father's subjection when God will be all in all. The recipients of the book of Hebrews consisted of converts from Judaism suffering estrangement from family and community, excommunicated from the temple. The etymology of Hebrew denotes someone who has "crossed over" a boundary (such as a river) and by extension connotes moving from one idea cluster to another (such as carnal to spiritual- requiring living tenaciously by faith), as demonstrated by our Patriarch Abraham. The intended audience of Hebrews was not exclusively descendants of Judah, but those who were called by God the Father into the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) which would include a large influx of gentiles. Because the Israel of God has departed from cultural expectations from both Jewish and Gentile communities, they suffer intense persecution. The Jerusalem Church, the headquarters congregation, had to meld the gentile and Hebrew elements together, deciding whether things like circumcision were still mandatory. The solution was to concentrate on the things Christ taught by example to the Apostles, granting the ability to apply God's law in gray areas as well as clear black and white distinctions. The New Covenant requirements outlined by Christ demanded that God's Called-out -ones must learn to worship in "spirit and truth" without the 'security' of a brick and mortar temple. The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant has not been done away but will re-instated during the Millennium for those who failed to learn its purpose the first time around. For God's called-out ones, the sacrificial system has certainly not been done away, but requires a living sacrifice of lifetime service, yielding to Christ's words and example.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the tumultuous time recorded in Acts is analogous to the current factional secularism, where God's Church is operating in the shadow of religious structures claiming to be "faith-based," but in fact denying God's Laws. Like the original audience of the Book of Hebrews, who battled a hostile established main-stream religion [Judaism] and persecution from an equally hostile secular Roman government, God's Church today faces a curtailment of tranquility. Like Paul and Nicodemus, God has pulled His people from pagan traditions practiced by the mainstream religion. As we are individually called by the Father (John 6:44), and the spiritual scales fall out of our eyes, we are just as disoriented and bewildered as the apostle Paul, finding our former friends and family members estranged from us. We learn that counting the cost means putting Christ ahead of friends, family, and especially self. At the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the newly converted Jew to the Way encountered persecution from the established religion and culture similar to what God's called-out ones experience today from established religion, family, secular culture, and government, all militating against God's Truth. Although textual criticism, citing stylistic differences in style between the Book of Hebrews and the identifiable Pauline Epistles, casts doubt on Paul's authorship, compelling internal evidence points to Paul as the actual author of Hebrews.
Ryan McClure, addressing the topic of human regret and Godly remorse, maintains that feelings of remorse and regret have the possibility of either leading to destruction or to repentance. Examples of regret and remorse permeate the scripture, including the regret of ancient Israel for having left the "comforts" of Egypt. Any sorrow which does not lead to repentance and a resolution to follow God's way is deadly, leading to re-imprisonment to sin and to the deadly consequences of carnal human nature. As God's called ones, once we have put our hand to the plow, we dare not look back wistfully, as Lot's wife did, but instead must keep doggedly plowing toward God's Kingdom. Worldly sorrow is superficial and unproductive, while Godly sorrow is highly productive, yielding not only repentance, but also a bumper crop of the fruits of God's Holy Spirit.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: At the end of last week's essay, we considered the zeal of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, showing that His enthusiasm for God and His way of life fueled all of His efforts. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the famous "Man in the Arena" speech of Theodore Roosevelt, observed that Roosevelt lived his life with vitality and energy. Whether hunting wild game or entertaining at an embassy party, he conducted his behavior with effervescent zeal. Quiet only when he was reading or studying, Theodore Roosevelt loved boxing, sparring, hiking, hunting, riding, ranching, fighting, and exploring. Roosevelt believed in living vigorously and zealously, pursuing life with all the energy at his disposal, giving his absolute all. His exemplary life provides a model for zeal, ardor, and enthusiasm. Zeal has often been discredited as the tool of the huckster or the charlatan. Christians, however, must develop passion and zeal for the Christian way of life and the prospect of the Kingdom of God. The Laodicean does have a form of zeal, but it is focused on material goals rather than spiritual goals. Consequently, it comes across to God as lack of zeal and commitment, appearing as apathy and detachment. God demands that our zeal be boiling hot, exuding ardor, fervency, and intensity focused single-mindedly on a goal, leading to a motivation to action or motivation to do something specific to please our God. Jesus Christ demonstrated godly zeal and fervor when He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Wherever Jesus went, huge crowds pressed Him to heal the sick; He obliged them wholeheartedly. God's work provided His food. The apostle Paul's misguided zeal was (in the blink of an eye) sublimated into godly zeal at his calling on the road to Damascus, keeping him motivated in God's service for the rest of his life. Any Christian act we can do we should do with zeal.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the television program Shark Tank, which displays a nexus of entrepreneurs and wealthy investors who have the power to make things happen, draws some spiritual analogies examining what makes and breaks deals. The wealthy investor (or the shark) desires to make ambitious entrepreneurs successful by combining their investments with the entrepreneur's desire to be successful enough to willingly sacrifice everything for the sake of the project. Interestingly, the investors find pride a disgusting deal breaker, while they look favorably upon wholehearted zeal and willingness to work 24/7 with a single-minded focus to get the job done. God can take misdirected zeal, as in the case of Saul, who became the apostle Paul, rechanneling it to a positive purpose. God wants to protect His investment in us, calling those whom He knows will exercise the ardency, zeal, willingness to sacrifice, and pure sitzfleisch to stick with the project until it is completed. Are we able to see the investment God has made in us? Are we willing to make a 24/7 commitment to our calling?
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the perennial "Handwriting on the Wall" theme from prior Feasts, suggests that as we mature, our ability to judge should exponentially increase even though perceiving reality is difficult. As we search for the truth, we cannot be "all over the place" but must abide in the truths of morality that come from God. The search for truth is often complicated by obstacles and distractions, including entertainment. A godly life is busy; we must discipline ourselves to stay on track as we find time is running out. We are admonished to seek the Lord while He may be found. Although a camera technically does not lie, when a picture is taken from different angles or perspectives the camera could distort the image, deceiving the viewer. A perception or intuitive judgment (a person's point of view) is how we affix significance to what we look at. Sadly, with a distorted perception, we will not accept reality; our perception becomes our reality. We have to be able to change our perceptions in order to accommodate or accept reality. Satan, by manipulating our perceptions, has deceived the whole world, religiously, politically, and socially. In John 2-4, many individuals stumbled at Jesus' words because they could not break out of their stultifying perceptions of scripture which they had filtered through their traditions. Islamic terrorists, hopelessly in darkness, feel a commission from God to slay the infidels. We are admonished to put on the armor of light (the truth of God) bringing our perceptions into alignment with God's will.
Martin Collins suggests that when we look upon the modern preoccupation with political correctness and the wholesale abandoning of moral principles, we can see parallels with Paul's grieving over his countrymen for having zeal and sincerity, but rejecting their Savior. Today also there is a big disconnect between sincerity and truth, as is seen in the current political scene, in which the current players are calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), infested with doublespeak, in which communism is "communitarianism" and socialism is "government partnership." It is dangerous to judge the value of something on the basis of misplaced 'sincerity,' which is often the opposite of godly sincerity. Godly sincerity must be paired with the truth, but worldly 'sincerity' does not require truth. Ironically, seeking has become more important than finding. Today society does not care about the real outcome just as long as one is 'sincere.' Tragically, sincerity is not a guarantee of truth. A sincere zealot, Paul of Tarsus, had to be rewired according to the truth in order for his sincerity and zeal to be useful. Knowledge and truth must trump zeal and sincerity in all cases. Sincerity cannot sanitize syncretistic religious defilement, namely Christmas and Easter, firmly rooted in paganism, particularly the cult of the sun. No zealous, sincere, carnal human being, equipped with a hopelessly reprobate mind, can decide what God wants, nor has the capability of living by God's standards. Sincerity without truth is worthless, but sincerity with God"s truth is valuable.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's impressive credentials and pedigree, which Paul considered rubbish, compared to his conversion and God's dramatic intervention in his life. Paul's writings, because of their complexity, have become the target of unscrupulous, antinomian twisting and equivocating by the carnal mind with its natural anti-law bias. By denigrating God's law, the unconverted presumptuously set their own standards. God's holy and righteous law was never designed to justify but only to identify sin and align one with the right standards—guiding one along the path to God's righteous purpose. Everyone who is saved will be a keeper of God's law. Paul used his life to illustrate our indebtedness to God and to caution about the law's limitation (or misapplied function) to justify, a function met only by Christ's sacrifice.
Richard Ritenbaugh, expounding upon the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive, suggests that the things we ardently desire for ourselves we should be willing to give to others, including forbearance and forgiveness. Following the Apostle Paul's example to the Corinthians, we ought to forgive and comfort one who has genuinely repented. Godly character includes the capacity to forgive and exercise forbearance. Within the body of Christ, we consist of interdependent cells, dependent upon each other. By failing to forgive our brother, we jeopardize the health or well being of the entire body. Extending forgiveness to a repentant brother is a godly characteristic, strengthening the entire body, leading to unity. Our Elder Brother's example should be our standard.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature will degenerate as far as it is allowed. It has the tendency to quickly adapt to its environment, "adjusting" effortlessly to immorality and perversion. The conscience'the response of man's moral awareness to the divine revelation concerning himself, his attitudes, and his activities, restraining and permitting behavior (Romans 2:14)'is a function of a person's education, not instinctual. False doctrine causes a person to corrupt his conscience, making him tolerate and accept immorality. The conscience will automatically slide into the gutter (becoming hardened or addicted to sin) if God is not retained in our thoughts (Romans 1:21, Ezekiel 20:23-25). Conversely, if the heart accepts the truth, the conscience will follow suit. After we are converted and transfer our allegiance from the flesh to the spirit, the conscience (with feelings subordinated to rationality) gradually becomes tender, adjusting to God's standards.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of the resurrection of the dead (and the capacity of the earth to sustain the combined populations of all who have ever lived), examining pertinent scriptures on the resurrections. The scriptures suggest that massive land reclamation and landscaping efforts (coupled with dramatic climate changes) will occur to prepare the earth for such a volume of humanity. As chapter 25 opens, Festus replaces Felix as governor. Paul, again defending himself from the two-year old spurious sedition charge, exercising his right of Roman citizenship, appealed to Caesar (in an effort to remain in protective custody). Festus, seeking the counsel of King Agrippa II, (providing Paul yet another opportunity to connect the Jewish hope of the resurrection with the Christian message), sends Paul to Rome. Ironically had Paul not appealed to Caesar, Agrippa (moved by Paul's testimony and convinced of his innocence) would have set him free. But God evidently had other plans for Paul.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
John Ritenbaugh continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the final instructions Jesus gave to His disciples following the Passover meal preceding His death. Jesus provided sober warnings in order to prepare the disciples for unpleasant eventualities, including being ostracized from the religious and cultural community. Jesus warned that in the future sincere religious zealots, not knowing God, will consider it an act of worship to kill people who obey God. It was to the disciples' advantage that Christ returned to His Father because: (1) they would not learn anything until they did it themselves; (2) they would learn to live by faith; (3) and, they, by means of God's Holy Spirit, would receive continual spiritual guidance, becoming convicted and convinced that all problems stem from sin, leading or inspiring them to repent and practice righteous behavior, modeled after Jesus Christ, and guiding them into all truth required for salvation and into insights into God's purpose, allowing them to glorify Christ as Christ glorified His Father. Christ told the disciples about his imminent crucifixion and resurrection, but they were unable to comprehend until after the events had happened. Though Christ knows that we will inevitably fail, He knows He can pull us through as long as we yield to Him. Chapter 17 constitutes the prayer of our High Priest, asking that we would take on the Divine Nature and name of God, determining our future destiny.
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