Sermon: Faith, Government, and the Calendar (Part Four)
Principles of Government & the Calendar Issue
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 12-Feb-00; 77 minutes
I am going to preface this sermon with the following three scriptures because they played a very large part in understanding what I was trying to get across last week.
Jeremiah 7:21-23 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat meat. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.'"
Last week, above all, I was attempting to show that our hopes for pleasing God—for being in His Kingdom and sharing eternal life with Him—absolutely rests on His grace and our demonstrating faith in what He has said. Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Connect that again: "Obey My voice." Demonstrating faith is living what He has said. It is the worship of God, the giving of homage to Him in every area of life.
The emphasis in this word worship is on the action—the holding of God in awe, the giving of the self to Him, the service of Him and His people, submitting to Him in obedience, paying due respect, or paying tithes, or giving offerings, or whatever it might happen to be.
I applied this principle to the calendar issue and found that what God has said is very little about the calendar's rules. There are very few "Thus saith the Lord" statements that He has spoken of in regard to the calendar.
One of the results of this is that people are constructing calendars based on their own assumptions. God does not even tell us distinctly whether the months should begin with a dark moon, when it is at the actual conjunction, the first faint crescent, or a full moon, for that matter. Each calendar creator is thus forced to make personal and private judgments regarding rules necessary for his calendar.
One person puts greater emphasis on this, and another on that. Interpretations of scriptures vary, and that is why all of these calendars are different. This is a form of every man doing what is right in his own eyes, and squabbling and division is its fruit.
Ask yourself this simple question: Do these differences from within the church reflect "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3)? My Bible tells me that there is only one mind leading the church of God. How can one please God trying to worship Him from something that oneself has created, rather than responding to God on the basis of what God has said? If God has said nothing, then that form of worship is not returning to God what has been received from God.
I want to pick up two verses all the way back in the book of Jude. I just want to pick up two verses here, 10 and 11. This is where Jude is giving examples of how God has responded to people who have not believed Him, not worshipped Him according to what He has said. So he talks about the people leaving Egypt. He talks about angels who did not do that. He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah. In verse 8 he says, "Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh." He is talking about the false ministers that were persisting in doing things to against the church in his day.
Jude 10-11 But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain.
That is what I wanted to pick up there. What is happening here, where people are not returning the worship of God, what has been received from God, it is not only invalid, but it is following the way established in Cain all the way back in Genesis 4. Cain brought to God the fruit of his own labors, not what God said for him to bring, and was rejected despite all of what must have seemed like to Cain a great deal of dedication, of seeing that he put so much misplaced devotion into this effort. Cain was so stunned by his rejection that he reached out in hatred and anger and killed his innocent brother.
Brethren, a calendar cannot be created out of vague generalities that require private judgments. This is a recipe for confusion and every man doing what is right in his own eye, and that is exactly the fruit that is being produced.
Turn to I Timothy 5.
I Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Brethren, I cannot for the life of me, knowing what I know about God's character, conceive of Him violating this principle in His own Word by not supplying His children with a calendar. All down through the centuries, there was and there continues to be the calendar that He has provided, and is pleased that we use in the worship of Him—the calculated Hebrew Calendar.
We also saw in that previous sermon the two very highly-respected, multi-volume and very detailed Bible dictionaries both agree that there is no calendar in the Bible. The Anchor Bible Dictionary says, "No part of the Bible, or even the Bible as a whole, presents a full calendar." The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible states, "Thus modern students of the Bible should realize that it is not possible to speak of a biblical calendar."
In addition, we saw that other authorities made statements concerning that the heavens are such that perfectly reconciling the days, months, and years is insoluble. A perfect calendar cannot be devised, because God has positioned the heavenly bodies in such a manner as to create a situation ready-made for testing us on our submission to Him by faith through something that seems to them as defective as God's command to slay Isaac must have seemed to Abraham at the first.
Brethren, God has not cluttered up His Word with all the rules necessary for a calendar, but He has very simply spoken. The oracles have been committed to the Jews—to Judah. And as we saw, they have not all been faithless. Paul only said some were not faithful. We need to understand that the Jews' faithlessness is not the real issue here. It is whether we believe that God has been faithful in His oversight and providence.
When God said to Cain and Abel, "When you approach Me, I want you to come with a slain lamb," that must have struck Cain as being simplistic, inadequate, and deficient. "Why, I can do better than that!" Well that is exactly like some people think in regard to the calculated Hebrew Calendar. But that calendar, like the lamb, is what God wants, and therefore this is what He has spoken on this issue. "Obey My voice," God says. God has actually made what can be a complicated issue simple, attempting to keep us—all of us—free from the controversy that dictionaries, commentaries, and encyclopedias speak regarding the history of calendars.
Today we are going to look at this issue from yet another perspective, that is, of the sovereignty of God and government. Let us begin by asking a few questions.
Do you, as an employee, feel free to change company or institutional policies at your own discretion? Do you, as a citizen of your village, city, county, state, and nation, feel that you have every right to change ordinances, statutes, or laws anytime you feel that they are impinging on your freedom of movement, whether you are driving a car, conducting business, building a building, or paying taxes for that matter?
Do you feel that you have every right to walk into a store and lower the price of goods you intend to purchase because you think they are too high? Or do you simply stop paying your mortgage because you now believe that your interest rate is out of line from what you think is fair? Most people would never take action to do anything like this in any number of areas that they might feel are unjust, and yet these same people apparently think little of taking a similar type of liberty to change church doctrine, at the very least, for themselves.
Brethren, it is this kind of thinking that is at the heart and core of Protestantism, and is a major reason why historically they keep dividing into smaller and smaller groups, ad infinitum.
From time to time, I am reading from a book that Richard lent to me titled Nine Great American Myths. Its theme is that many of the theological and philosophical underpinnings that drive the American (and I also feel many other Israelite nations) are geared to produce individualism at the expense of community, and competition at the expense of cooperation.
This philosophical and theological underpinning produces a people constantly on the verge of discontentment—people who are always on the move to something new, always on the verge of fragmenting, and so we quickly move or settle into empty, undeveloped areas of land. We divorce easily, and move on to a new mate. We think that new laws, new products, new technology are always the answer to today's problems.
In business, it tends to generate a great deal of prosperity, but at the expense of community, institutional, governmental, and family stability, and it never solves the underlying problem. In our individualism, we simply explore ourselves away from the problem, and move on. I believe, brethren, that this is affecting the church very greatly, and we are not working with a true principle that will resolve in solutions that are in line with God's word.
Turn to Romans 13. These are Scriptures that we use from time to time, and I know that you are familiar with them, but I want to drive this point home regarding the making of a change like the magnitude of a calendar.
Romans 13:1-2 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
Note that word "Therefore." It always indicates a conclusion to the previous statement. "The authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God."
Romans 13:3-7 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister [servant], an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. [That is, your conscience is clear before God.] For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
God is the author of human government. Its general functions are to protect, to punish, and to promote the general welfare. It plainly says that to resist human government is to resist the ordinance that is the law of God. So for any of us to take community laws into our own hands is to disobey the sovereignty of God.
But now we are going to see that He is more than merely the author, by turning to Daniel 4. Daniel is before Nebuchadnezzar, and he says:
Daniel 4:17 This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.
God rules. He is not just the author of human government; He rules over human government. He is directly involved. It is He who has oversight of all of mankind, not just the church.
Now God has done what has been recorded in this chapter in order that mankind might realize that even human rulers, with seemingly far more power than ordinary citizens, exercise authority only by the permission of God.
Turn now to Daniel 2.
Daniel 2:20-22 Daniel answered and said: "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him.
Again another nail in this construction project here that we are building, that it is God, not the rulers, who is the Master of their destiny. They did not put themselves into office, and they are not permitted to do whatsoever they please, and that He sometimes puts base people in those offices in order for the purpose of carrying out His purposes.
God is not only the author of human government, He installs and He actively participates in His oversight. When God puts base men in high office, that does not change our individual responsibility. God rules, and He has His own purpose that He is working out, and we individual citizens are only free within that purpose's framework.
Go now to the New Testament to I Peter 2.
I Peter 2:11-17 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake [that is, to glorify Him in our submission to the ordinances of man] whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him [that is, God establishes them in office] for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using your liberty as a cloak for vice, but as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
I do not know how this could be stated any clearer—every ordinance. It is impossible for a believer to be a good Christian and a bad citizen at the same time. If we, as Christians, take the community's laws into our own hand and tweak them for our benefit, regardless of what the law says, we are not a good Christian. We are not a good citizen; we are not a good Christian. It is impossible to be a good Christian and a bad citizen at the same time. We are to recognize, accept, and live within the fact that the powers that be are ordained by God, for there is no authority but of God.
Brethren, this is His creation, and He can do with it anything He good and well pleases! Can we learn to live by faith with that in mind? You see, human governments are extensions of God's government, of God's rule, and this principle even applies to atheistic human government unless of course they pass a law that is anti-scriptural. But even in this situation, the believer must obey God rather than men but suffer the consequences that the community places for the breaking of that law. And therefore you will satisfy God—that you are submissive both to Him and to His governance through the community.
I think we ought to be able to see that we are not free to just change community laws, but rather our responsibility toward God is to submit. We are going to look just briefly in John 19 at how far this carries. It carries even to the Son of God, who was God in the flesh. If He was headed toward His crucifixion, He was of course brought before Pontius Pilate, and Pilate in verse 10 said:
John 19:10-11 Then Pilate said to Him, "Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?" Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."
There is no place in God's Word where it even says we are to change community law, and we can see by Jesus' crucifixion that He did nothing in regard to Roman and Jewish rule over Judah. His submission was all the way to allowing them to illegally take His life. There is the prime example.
Let us go back again to the book of Daniel so we can get this in its context and see about whom this is said.
Daniel 7:23-24 "Thus he said: 'The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; He shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings.'
Now notice this description of what this being does:
Daniel 7:25 'He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law.'
Who do we read in Daniel 2 is the one who changes times and laws? The changing of a calendar is included within the usage of this word that is translated times. The changing of a calendar is serious business and is considered within the framework of this verse as a challenging of God!
Let us go back and read II Thessalonians 2 and see a direct line from Daniel 7:24-25. It is the theme, it is the thrust, not just the timing.
II Thessalonians 2:3-4 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition [and Daniel 7:25 says, "He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law"], who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
In these verses, and that kind of thinking reflected in Daniel 7:25, is associated with the persecution of the saints, and also in the changing of calendars. The rule, then, is that to challenge the rule and law of men is to challenge the rule and the law and the purpose of God. This is because He, in His sovereignty, has authority and oversight over all, and therefore any flaunting disobedience is perceived by Him to be a challenging of Him.
Go back to Exodus 16. They are just recently out of Egypt.
Exodus 16:3 And the children of Israel said to them [to Moses and Aaron], "Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Were they upset or what? Were they grumbling or what? Were they griping or what? What were they griping about? They did not find what God was providing them to their liking.
Exodus 16:8 Also Moses said, "This shall be seen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and in the morning bread to the full; for the LORD hears your murmurings which you make against Him.
When we are displeased with what God provides, it is calling Him into account.
Exodus 16:8 "And what are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against the LORD."
Let us leave that and turn our attention more specifically to the biblical nation of Israel. I am doing this because I have found that there is a tendency among church members to disregard Israel as if it no longer exists, that it was a nation way back there in the past, but it is no longer here in the present. The tendency is to think only of the nation they are now living in, and that there is no responsibility to the biblical Israel.
Now, wait a minute. Let us go to Amos 9 where God makes a significant statement.
Amos 9:9 "For surely I will command, and will sift the house of Israel among all nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve; yet not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground.
This verse encapsulates a fact essential to understanding a major part of the purpose that God is working out. Though Israel appears to the world to be scattered, God knows where every single Israelite is, and He is working out a major portion of His purpose through them. I might add here He not only knows where every Israelite is, He knows where every Israelite who ever emigrated died.
Now back to the New Testament once again, to Romans 11. The first verse is quite important to what I am speaking on here now.
Romans 11:1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not!
Most of us, without ever really stopping to think about it, think only of the church.
Romans 11:1 For I also am an Israelite of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
In other words he is saying, "Hey! God called me out of Israel, and He put me, an Israelite, into His work.
Romans 11:2-12 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, "LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"? But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest [Israel] were hardened. Just as it is written: "God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day. [This is with regard to conversion.] And David says: "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a recompense to them; let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back always." I [Paul] say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall [trespass], to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall [trespass] is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
Romans 11:17-18 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grated in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
What is the root brethren? It is the nation of Israel. Hang onto that! They have been grafted into Israel, and we will see why in just a bit. God is not done with Israel.
Romans 11:19-21 You will say then, "Branches [individual people] were broken off that I might be grafted in." [And Paul says] Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.
Romans 11:25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Do you see that? "Hardening in part." Not totally; hardening in part, just like we tend to read regarding the Jews, that they are all great terrible sinners. The Bible does not say that. He only says, "Some were unfaithful." We also tend to read into this that all of Israel is hardened. No, it is not. Just in part, until the fullness of Gentiles come in.
Romans 11:26-32 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins." Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. [God is not done with Israel.] For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy: For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
Brethren, Israel may not know who they are, but God does, and Israel is still functioning in this world as a nation, and God's purpose is still being worked out through them, and it is in Israel (specifically Joseph), that the bulk of God's church is located at this time.
Let us go back to Genesis 12 and we will just run through a number of these promises that God gave to Abraham so that we can understand that Israel is carrying out its purpose, and it is being used.
Genesis 12:1-3 Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
What we learned when Herbert Armstrong was alive and he was going through these things so frequently is that this blessing to all the families of the earth is two-fold. It is spiritual with Jesus Christ. It is physical through the nations of Israel, and Israel has been a blessing to all nations. We have not done the job well, but nonetheless we have done what God has said, because God promises that He works it out through those people that He gave the promise to.
Genesis 13:15-17 "For all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you."
Genesis 15:5-6 Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them." He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Genesis 17:4-7 "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham: for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, [Hang onto this because it becomes important.] for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.
That is a promise that God is going to be working with the descendants of Abraham right to the very end.
This book that you are holding in your lap or in your hand or on a table—the Bible—is the law book of the nation of Israel. There are no other nations on earth that pay such respect to the Bible as Israel. That respect given the Bible is a remnant of our heritage received from our forefathers as they kept emigrating all through Europe and whatever, to the end-time land.
The people in Israel do not know that they are Israel, but brethren, we do, and that is because knowing who we are, that we are Israel, is important to God's purpose, that we might worship Him with a fuller understanding and be prepared for His Kingdom. Therefore He revealed it to us, and Israel (in this case I mean Judah) is the only publicly visible remnant, and it, brethren, is still using the calculated Hebrew Calendar from old. If you do not believe me, do a bit of researching on the web and you will find that they are using both the Gregorian as well as the calculated Hebrew Calendar. Sometimes you will see that dual dates are given.
I do not mean by this that every Israeli-based website will display both calendars, but the Hebrew Calendar is there, and they are using the Gregorian because they have to in order to facilitate diplomatic and commercial business with the rest of the world, but internally, the Hebrew Calendar is much more prominent. They never lost knowledge of who they are, and today they still know who they are.
One of the reasons why Judah was given the responsibility of preserving the oracles, is that unlike the rest of Israel, unlike the church, they had a far more stable sense of community all the way down through the centuries through which traditions could be passed. They had a ghetto mentality, and so they always grouped together, whereas Israel tended to scatter themselves amongst those people that they were passing through.
God had this all planned out beforehand. Remember, we know who we are.
Genesis 49:1 And Jacob called his sons and said, "Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.
Genesis 49 is an end-time prophecy. Notice what it says in verse 10 for the end time.
Genesis 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.
The King James says for that word obedience, "gathering."
In the time element of Genesis 49:10, Shiloh has not yet come. Judah is still, by appointment of God, the lawgiver.
Do you know what He is talking about there in verse 10 where it says, "And to Him shall be the obedience of the people [or the gathering of the people]"? He is talking about after the Tribulation, after the Day of the Lord, after the Battle of Armageddon when Israel is finally regathered; then we will be regathered in that sense when Shiloh comes. Then the people will be regathered. It is just again another indication that this is intended for the end time. Judah is the lawgiver. They are the law preserver. They are the lawgiver. Not Joseph. Not Reuben. Not any of the other tribes. Judah is the lawgiver. The oracles were given to Judah.
I want you to see another place. Go now to Psalm 108. This is a psalm of David. Psalm 108's theme is end-time.
Incidentally, this is not quite an aside, it is not super important, but Psalms is divided into five books. Psalm 107 begins the fifth and final book. The theme of the Psalms that runs from Psalm 107 through Psalm 150 is end-time events, and concludes with the return of Christ, and a tremendously glorious psalm, you know—"Hallelujah!" after "Hallelujah!" because finally He is on earth.
Psalm 108:5-6 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Your glory above all the earth; that Your beloved may be delivered, save with Your right hand, and hear me.
Who is "the beloved"? Well, it could have been David, because that is what David means—"much beloved." It could be Israel, and that certainly would be fitting as well. It can also be the church, which is "the beloved" of the returning Jesus Christ and the one that He is committed to marry.
Psalm 108:7-9 God has spoken in His holiness: "I will rejoice; I will divide Shechem and measure out the Valley of Succoth. Gilead is Mine; Manasseh is Mine; Ephraim also is the helmet for My head; Judah is My lawgiver [at the end time, just before the return of Christ.] Moab is My washpot; over Edom I will cast My shoe; over Philistia I will triumph."
I am not saying here that Israel is handling its responsibility as well as it could be. But it is there, and anyone with any sense can tell that there is a natural affinity between Israel and Judah. It has almost always been Britain, France, and the United States that has come to Judah's aid. The Swedes and the Dutch were especially responsible for rescuing many Jews from Nazi extermination.
Now the Jews have not only preserved the law book of Israel, but also the calendar of Israel. That calendar is the national calendar of Israel. Now they have preserved these things primarily because the church of God would have need of them.
Does it not seem rather strange to you that the very people who are pushing for calendar change can trust the Jews for the preservation of the Old Testament, and yet turn right around and reject the same people over the calendar?
Let us go now to the book of Romans.
Romans 9:1-5 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God.
Verse 4 is written in the present tense. I want especially to draw this to your attention. These things—the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises—these gifts and their accompanying responsibilities are also all still in force and effect. Those things were given to Israel.
Now please understand that the church has in no way replaced Israel in God's plan. Israel is still carrying on its responsibility to God, however weakly. It is Israel who distributes Bibles all over the world. It is Israel that sends out missionaries and evangelists. It is primarily Israelites who write, publish, and distribute all of these Bible helps like dictionaries, commentaries, concordances, and encyclopedias. The church, brethren, is a sub-set, a sub-section, a sub-unit, a remnant, which is exactly what Paul called us in Romans 11:4, meaning a small portion within Israel, and within God's plan.
Now the church is the primary focus in God's purpose right now, but Israel is still in existence, very much in existence, and we have a responsibility toward it within God's purpose. We are Israelites.
Turn now to Hebrews 8.
Hebrews 8:7-8 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them [the people], He says, "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel [not the church] and with the house of Judah."
The New Covenant is made with the nation of Israel. The Bible does not say the covenant is made with the church. Brethren, we have to somehow recapture the big picture. The church is a sub-set within Israel. The covenant is being made with Israel. The church is merely a forerunner of what is going to come.
Let us turn to Ephesians 2. We have a responsibility to Israel because we are Israelites. It is good to remember that this section ties everything together that I have been saying for about the last twenty minutes or so, and it follows on the heel of Paul's teaching, that "By grace you are saved," and that we are God's workmanship being prepared for doing good works. Verse 11 begins with the word "Therefore" which is another one of those concluding or summary statements. He is saying then, in light of this, in light of salvation being by grace and being prepared:
Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—
Did you catch that? "Once you were Gentiles in the flesh." Does he mean that they are no longer Gentiles in the flesh? The answer to that is "yes." They are no longer Gentiles in the flesh.
Ephesians 2:11-12 who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time [when they were Gentiles in the flesh] you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel [not the church] and strangers from the covenants of promise; having no hope and without God in the world.
Remember, all of those things that He gave in Romans 9 came to Israel. Why? In order that His earlier promises that He made to Abraham might be filled, and all that how Israel was going to be a blessing to the entire world, both physically and spiritually. And so all of these things that we have access to is because we are Israelites.
Do you know what the word alien means? An alien is a person who owes allegiance to another country. Do you see what Paul was saying here? Now they owe allegiance to Israel, unlike when they were Gentiles in the flesh. "At that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."
Ephesians 2:13-20 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners [alien from Israel], but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.
My study Bible says this in regard to "commonwealth." It says,
Commonwealth (or nation) of Israel recalls the concept of ancient Greek city/state whereby a city or country provided numerous valuable advantages, benefits, and privileges for its citizens, but withheld them from foreigners. Since the Gentile addressees used to be aliens from the Jewish nation who were God's people, the Gentiles were without the spiritual blessings given her by God.
This is a Protestant commentary. They understand this.
Now this is important spiritually, because the covenants, the promises, the hopes, a relationship with God, are all funneled by God through Israel, and no other nation because of the choice of God, and the promises God made and covenants of God were all made with Israel. It is to the citizens of Israel that these things are offered. But through Christ, Gentiles in the flesh have been made near so that they can be in unity with Israelites. So now they are fellow citizens with the saints. Now citizens of what? Well first, primarily, in the Kingdom of God—spiritual Israel; but also secondarily, the physical nation of Israel as well.
Let us look at this yet from another angle. It is the same general theme here, but a little bit different angle.
Jesus was an Israelite in the same way that Paul stated that he was, in Romans 9:4. Technically, racially, Paul was a Benjamite, but nationally he was a Jew. And because he was a Jew, he was an Israelite.
Now Jesus was ethnically and racially a Jew, and nationally a Jew as well. But because He was a Jew, He was also an Israelite. So the church is perceived in the Bible as being "the body of Christ." By Paul's description in I Corinthians 12, we are told that we are part of His body. Christ is the Head, and the church is the remaining part in that analogy. Now if we are part of His body, we are completely immersed within it. If we are completely within it, we are what He is. And what is He? He is a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He is a Jew, and therefore an Israelite. And even Gentiles are now Israelites, and that is why Paul wrote the way that he did, that they were no longer aliens, but fellow citizens of the nation to whom the promises were given, and fellow citizens of the nation receiving them as well.
I do not whether you figured this out yet, but what I am describing here is the same parallel track constant that Darryl is using in his series on the prophets. It is a biblical reality that gives an understanding of what we are experiencing that is not otherwise perceived. Israel and the church are like parallel rails on a railroad track. Each is distinct from the other, but like the rails on a railroad track they are also inextricably bound together, being drawn in the same direction and sharing a common responsibility.
What this means in practical fact is, that as a citizen of Israel we bear the responsibility of obeying its law book, the Bible, and using its calendar.
Let us draw this yet finer.
Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.
This clearly states that we are already considered by God to be in His Kingdom. Now God knows the end from the beginning, and He calls things that are not as though they were. The Kingdom of God is not yet here in its fullness, but in the mind of God He is so certain that He can pull it off, that it is as good as done. Thus this is written in the past tense. We are already in that Kingdom.
Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are in that Kingdom, and that is where our citizenship is, and so we have a dual citizenship. One with the nation of Israel, the other with spiritual Israel. This is not at all unusual, even in this world. We have one son-in-law who has a dual citizenship. One to England, and the other to the United States.
As a citizen of spiritual Israel, do you have any more right to change the laws and the teaching of its nation than you do as a citizen of the nation in which you were born? Does God give us that right, that authority? Brethren, to do that is extremely serious business, because in this we are not even dealing with an ordinary head of state.
I think that one of the major problems regarding doctrinal change is that people are looking at this far too narrowly, dealing with it only as a personal thing, and by not thinking of this in the scope of a national affair.
Look at I Corinthians 11:3.
I Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
Now here is God's line of authority for the family.
I Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
Here is God's line of authority for the church, of course understanding that the Father and the Son precede the apostles and so forth.
Let us go to Matthew 16. You will find in verse 13 that Jesus was speaking to His disciples, and the only ones who spoke were the ones who became or were the apostles.
Here is one of the few places where Christ directly designates a measure of authority, and the context shows that it is to apostles only. Even here it must be understood that this provision is given only within the overall framework of God's sovereignty, because He is only going to give approval to an apostolic change for His church that He also agrees with.
Now authority to change doctrine is not given even to the ministry in general, nor to everybody and his brother within the church who feels that some doctrine might be wrong. Search this Book brethren. Every teaching intended for the church has been put into it through an apostle or a prophet. We do not have those offices available to us today, and no body of men, no council of elders—I do not care how many of them there are, how long they have been in the church, or how old they might be—has the authority, unless they are also an apostle. God has not revealed even that He has used prophets under the New Covenant as He did under the Old.
Brethren, there are people associated with the church out there campaigning like so many politicians lobbying for some law change they want to make. Right now the effort is being made against the calendar. Governmentally, we do not have the authority to make changes for the entire church.
I want to read something to you from the Living Bible in Hebrews 3. The subject is the children of Israel in the wilderness.
Hebrews 3:10-19 (TLB) "But God says, I was very angry with them for their hearts were always looking somewhere else instead of up to Me, and they never found the path I wanted them to follow. And then God, full of anger against them, bound Himself with an oath that He would never let them come to His place of rest. Beware then of your own heart, dear brothers, lest you find that they too are evil and unbelieving and are leading you away from the living God. Speak to each other about these things every day while there is time so that none of you will become hardened against God, being blinded by the glamour of sin. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God, just as we did when we first became Christians, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. But now is the time. Never forget the warning: Today, if you will hear God's voice speaking to you, do not harden your hearts against Him as the people of Israel did when they rebelled against Him in the wilderness. And who are these people I speak of, who heard God's voice speaking to them, but then rebelled against Him? They were the ones who came out of Egypt with Moses their leader. And who was it who made God angry for all those forty years? These same people who sinned, and as a result died in the wilderness. And to whom was God speaking when He swore with an oath that they would never go into the land He had promised His people? He was speaking to all those who disobeyed Him. And why couldn't they go in? Because they didn't trust Him."