A New Creation

2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The Greek word for ‘new’ in context is kainos, according to Strong’s it can also be described as fresh, recently made, of a new kind, unprecedented, uncommon, unheard of.

The Greek word for ‘behold’ is idou, and the Hebrew root (הֵן) pronounced ‘hayn’ for the word ‘behold’ is an interjection and contains the elements of surprise, to pay attention, and to pause in order to really notice and consider.

Contextually, Paul is speaking of no longer regarding people that have accepted Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection as worldly. They are new creations. The word of faith is regarding identity, not sanctification as the some theologians would have you believe.

The text doesn’t say that “he is becoming” a new creation, it says “he IS” a new creation. By the way, the text is gender neutral as there is no male or female in matters of spiritual identity (Gal 3:28). The text doesn’t say that one is becoming new, the tense is that one HAS become new. A change of identity has already taken place.

For those who have accepted Jesus’ offer of a new life, the enemy of your soul and religion don’t want you to know who you are.

Satan repeatedly asked Jesus, “IF you are the son of God.” If Satan would tempt Jesus to believe lies about his identity, wouldn’t he do the same for you and I?

“Do you know who you are?”

The movie, “The Lion King,” contained a powerful portrayal of the very real issue of identity that we all must wrestle with. In the movie, Simba believed the lies that the enemy of his soul had told him. As a result, he lived in a place of shame and exile. Current researcher Brene’ Brown defines shame this way, “Guilt=I did something bad. Shame=I am bad.” The good news is that God offers a solution for both. The offer of continuing forgiveness of sins (for guilt) and a new identity (for shame).

Paul also made this statement:

Galatians 6:15 (ESV)

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

Paul makes the bold claim that our religious efforts (circumcision) isn’t what will matter in the end, but our identity.

I want to introduce two Hebrew words to you as they have bearing on you becoming a new creation, giving credit to Rabbi Jonathan Kahn for the inspiration.

Rechem (H7357) רֶחֶם

This word means womb in Hebrew, and has racham as its root. The womb is the place where a delicate and precious new life is formed. The womb is a place of protection, warmth, nurture, and love.

In a healthy relationship, a child is conceived out of love. It is no different with God.

Most people that have gone through the experience of raising a child will have lots of respect and compassion for any pregnant woman. A pregnant woman usually evokes a compassionate response, and we will make all kinds of concessions for her.

A womb in Hebraic thought is synonymous with the word compassion. In fact, they come from the same Hebrew root.

Racham (H7358) רָחַם

This is a Hebrew word meaning to be soft, to have compassion, to pity, to show mercy, to cherish, to love.

Let’s tie some concepts together. In John chapter 3, we find the Pharisee named Nicodemus asking Jesus a question under the cover of darkness. Nicodemus exclaims that Jesus couldn’t do the miracles that he did unless God were with him.

John 3:3-6 (ESV)
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Jesus was instructing Nicodemus in being born again of the spirit. This offer of becoming born again only comes through believing in the Son.

John 3:14-17
14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

“For God so loved the world.” How can you believe that God loves you? I offer one new thought. God offers a new identity for you in the womb of God. The womb is a symbol of racham, where God offers compassion, mercy, warmth, and love. Your new identity is birthed in that love, and you are a new creation as a result.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Those old wounds in your soul of shame and rejection don’t have to stay.

Personally, I have been born again for fifteen years, and yet I am just now starting to get this. Recently, I have heard multiple messages regarding identity, building up my faith and tying things together. I am so tired of being rejected. I have decided that the only antidote to repeated rejection and the accompanying hurt is an upgrade in my identity. I am taking hold of this important truth by faith. I have a new identity and that is where I need to live from.

John 1:12 (NIV)
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

You see, if you are in Christ, you HAVE been given a new identity as a child of God. You ARE a new creation. You HAVE a new life and destiny. You WERE born again in the womb of God. You WERE shown compassion and given mercy. You WERE conceived in love (for God so loved you).

It doesn’t matter what your old identity was.

Your new identity is who you are having been birthed anew out of the womb of God. You have been made new, clean, fresh, innocent, and dearly loved.

That is who you ARE, a new creation!

If you don’t yet know Jesus, an offer still stands for you to be cleansed, forgiven, and to receive a new identity and destiny.

Song of Hallel

Passover has already passed this year (is that redundant?). That being said, I can’t wait another year to share what I’ve recently learned!

Matthew 26:30 (HCSB)
26As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.”
27Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you.
28For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.
29But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.”
30After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

In the scriptures, you will find a song for Moses, Miriam, and Mary, but you won’t find one for Yeshua or Jesus. Yet it’s right here in front of our noses.

Jesus being fully a Jew would have taken Passover with his disciples as prescribed in the Mishnah (oral traditions) unless He, being the Word incarnate, was doing something new.

The bread:

Three Matzot were used, symbolizing the trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), made from unleavened bread (not puffed up). In Jewish tradition, the middle piece was broken which we now know represented the Son. Half of it is hidden for little children to find it.

Do you think Jesus was giving them Himself, the middle matzah, broken for them? I do.

I wonder if the tradition of sending children to seek the broken matzah relates to this verse?

Matthew 18:3 (HCSB)
3″I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The wine:

Part of the Jewish Passover tradition was four cups of wine.

The first cup was the cup of sanctification (I will bring you out). The second cup was the cup of plagues, drunk before the meal and not mentioned here (I will free you from slavery). The third cup was the cup of redemption which is the one mentioned here (I will redeem you). The fourth cup was the cup of completion which is not shared, but referred to. Here, Jesus redefines the tradition to show that the completion is when we drink wine with Jesus after he comes again and the wedding feast takes place – Revelation 19:9 (I will take you as my own).

Jesus is also redefining the cup of redemption to show that redemption comes through accepting and taking in His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins along with his sacrifice (matzah, body) being broken for us that we might become whole and holy.

The song:

The reference is small, yet profound. Which Psalms did they sing together? I didn’t even know Jesus sang, did you? Of course he would, being a Rabbi. As part of the Passover tradition, Jesus would have been singing the Psalms of Hallel which traditionally cover Psalms 113-118.

Hallel is one of many Hebrew words to praise.  I was taught that this word is accompanied by an action of extending both hands high in the air (faith without deeds is dead from a Jewish perspective).

While I won’t be looking at all the references, I want to focus on the pinnacle of Hallel, Psalm 118.

If you study the text carefully, you may discover like me that this Psalm is really pointing to Jesus. I wonder if Jesus’ disciples got that the song they were singing was right in their midst? I wonder if they understood the references that described what Jesus was about to do, or did that understanding come when they were walking with Jesus after His resurrection (Emmaus walk – Luke 24:32)?

I want to highlight some verses from the Psalm:

Psalm 118 begins and ends with the same text as bookends. A common literary device in scripture is a chaism that has the meat in the middle.

1 “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever.”

The Hebrew word for love used here (checed), sometimes translated as mercy, can be described as a the intersection of faithfulness, loyalty, and steadfast love.

Psalm 118:14-29 (NKJV)
14 The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.
15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation
Is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
16 The right hand of the LORD is exalted;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the LORD.
18 The LORD has chastened me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD,
Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This was the LORD’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I pray, O LORD;
O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
27 God is the LORD,
And He has given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.
29 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.

In verse 14, Jesus has just become their song and their salvation (Jesus is LORD). Wow!

In verse 19, I don’t find the word ‘the’ in the Hebrew, instead I see first person references. I believe it would read more like ‘open my gates of righteousness, I will enter them, thank you God.’ Jesus is returning to the Father.

פִּתְחוּ־לִי שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶדֶק אָבֹא־בָם אוֹדֶה יָהּ

In verse 20, it has been translated ‘this is the gate of the LORD, but the lamed prefix is usually translated ‘to’. This could be paraphrased as ‘This is the gate to the Father (I am), the righteous will enter through me.’  I wonder if His disciples picked up on Jesus calling himself the ‘gate’ to salvation and that righteousness had to come through Him?

זֶה־הַשַּׁעַר לַיהוָה צַדִּיקִים יָבֹאוּ בוֹ

In verse 24, this verse is often taken out of context. Which day were they to rejoice? The day of Passover which begins at sundown. Why? It’s proscribed in Exodus 12:14, because it marked their day of deliverance, but what else might it be saying in a new covenant? I believe that this new Passover is to celebrate the love that is the culmination of this song of praise. The love is demonstrated in verse 27.

In verse 27 in the language of symbols, light is a metaphor for truth, illumination, or understanding.

I believe another way that the Hebrew could read is as follows: The LORD God has become light to us (I am the light of the world). Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

אֵל יְהוָה וַיָּאֶר לָנוּ אִסְרוּ־חַג בַּעֲבֹתִים עַד־קַרְנוֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ

This song was about Jesus becoming the sacrificial lamb of God to be sacrificed as a Passover lamb, once and only once for the sins of the world. It is the greatest expression of love the world will ever know. The altar was in the shape of a cross.

Wow, imagine singing this song with Jesus after sharing the Passover meal, rich with symbolism! The symbolism that they had previously learned had just been turned upside down.

This is the song of Hallel or we might call it the Jeshua or Jesus song. He has become our song and our salvation (Yeshua in Hebrew).

1 John 3:16a
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.

For God so loved the world…

Crisis of Goodness

Am I a good person?

Someone close to me recently asked me this question. I had replied with a pat answer from the Scriptures where Jesus asked the question, “why do you call me good? Only the Father is good.” My answer reflected the tainted core belief I carried.

Last night, I had a self-condition dream, where I essentially believed I was rotten at the core. I woke up with a sore back and aching bones. I asked my wife to pray for me and I realized that I needed to change my mind about whether I thought I was a good person. Perhaps this applies to you, too.

If you had asked me prior to this morning if I thought I was a good person, I would have told you “no.” Out of my own core belief, I didn’t believe anyone was good (except for God), and was jealous or mocked those who thought they were. Their behavior indicated otherwise, and I thought they were either misguided or full of themselves.

Is someone good because of their potential? Many young children are sweet and appear innocent enough. I can see potential in people where most of us don’t live up to our potential as we grow up and struggle with life.

Are we good because of our choices and the “good” things we do for others? Religions, philanthropy, and our culture would seem to indicate so. We can even come up with scripture to support our claim. You judge actions by the fruit that they bear (Luke 13:6-9) You will know our faith by our works (James 2:24).

What about those of us who have prodigal children who seem selfish and rebel against the status quo and go do their own thing? Are they good? Are they good people? Their actions would lead us to say no. However, have we lost sight of their potential that we once saw when they were small and innocent? Have they lost sight of their own potential? How do they feel about themselves? Do they believe they are good, or have they given up trying to be good enough?

“Can I ever be good enough?” I believe that is a question in the hearts of many and probably causes many to struggle and is the root of many diseases.

I have been trying to get to the root of an internal fifteen-year struggle (i.e. as long as I have been a born-again believer). For whatever reason, the struggle has been getting worse lately. I have tried some new things in life that didn’t have storybook endings (and had critical reviews to go with them).  Like it or not, people will reflect what we carry, and mirror how we feel about ourselves.  I now see that the internal struggle probably has a lot to do with how I feel about myself. Specifically, the question of whether I am inherently good.

I have struggled with understanding the bread when we take communion, and I think I now understand why.

I was excited about a new thought that the bread represents righteousness, out of looking at the opposite of a Proverb. In Proverbs 4:17, it is said of someone who forsakes wisdom “They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.”

My new working phrase is that when we take communion, we take in the wine of forgiveness and the bread of righteousness. They are opposite words of the proverb above, exchanging the lack of wisdom for having the wisdom of Christ (1 Cor 1:30).

Without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sins. That much is obvious. In John 6, Jesus reveals that He is the bread of life, and saying that the bread symbolizes life is a reasonable answer, but there seems to be more than that. Jesus makes this statement in John 6:58b, “The one who eats this bread will live forever.” He is clearly talking about more than the life that we live in these bodies.

I believe righteousness is a much bigger encompassing word. I believe it includes life, healing, deliverance, and wholeness as part of having peace (Shalom) and being right before God. I believe it includes having the faith that we will be like Jesus, being fully loved and accepted. I believe righteousness means having faith that we both “are” and “will be” good enough. Not because of all the things we did or didn’t to, but because of the price paid for our “good enough” status. I believe that righteousness means that we will have a glorified, resurrected body like Jesus, without sin, decay, or corruption.

Ravi Zacharias said this, “In every religion except Christianity, morality is a means of attainment.”

I would amend that to say morality is a means of attainment in all religious, and self-help forms. It shouldn’t be in the church, but it is there, as well. The good news of Jesus is that righteousness is by faith lest anyone should boast (Romans 3:28).

I have always thought that there was something missing in my faith. I now understand that it is the belief that I am good. In Romans 10:9-10 below, I had received the salvation part through faith, but I failed to believe in the free gift of righteousness (I am now good enough).

Romans 10:9-10 (HCSB)
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.

I would offer the following equation – resurrection = redemption = righteousness = goodness. It is having the faith that you are good enough if you have Jesus.

I believe that is the answer our hearts need.

 

The Gospel Anti-formula (Salvation of a Thief)

I ask you to read the following narrative and consider, how one of the thieves hanging on a cross beside Jesus was saved (e.g. delivered to everlasting life – Paradise).

Luke 23:32-42 (HCSB)
32 Two others – criminals – were also led away to be executed with Him.
33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.
34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided His clothes and cast lots.
35 The people stood watching, and even the leaders kept scoffing: “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One!”
36 The soldiers also mocked Him. They came offering Him sour wine
37 and said, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”
38 An inscription was above Him: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
40 But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment?
41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

First of all, let’s debunk a myth that the place called the Skull aka Calvary (Golgotha in Hebrew) was a hill. While traditional, this doesn’t have any scriptural or archaeological evidence to support it. My family and I were there in Jerusalem in 2015. All we know from scripture was that the place was a public place, that it was outside the original Jerusalem walls, and that it was in a place where would people would pass by (Matt 27:39).

So, what did the thief on the cross do to be saved?

While the thief did not confess all his sins so he could be saved, he did acknowledge his guilt. He acknowledged that he deserved the punishment that the two thieves were receiving. In this, he demonstrated humility (God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble). He certainly didn’t lead a life that was worthy of being saved to everlasting life.

More importantly, he didn’t follow a prescribed formula for salvation.

I know a woman who demonstrates solid Christian character and was saved by Jesus appearing to her in a dream. Jesus introduced himself to the dreamer, she believed and was saved. I also have heard of hundreds of encounters through dreams of Jesus in Muslim nations around the world.

I would suggest that the thief’s salvation came by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

I would also suggest that the two thieves are a picture of the separation of the sheep from the goats. One enters in (on the right) due to their faith, the other is shut out (on the left) because of their unbelief and rejection of a substitute.

I would offer that the thief demonstrated two things by his words.

1) He acknowledged that Jesus was Lord. Those who were mocking him (blasphemeo in the Greek), did not fear God. This man asked the other criminal, “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment?” The thief, in saying “this man has done nothing wrong,” recognized the innocence of Jesus. Did he know that Jesus was to be an innocent offering for his sin, we wonder? Whether he knew this by the spirit or not, he recognized that this King of the Jews was going to come into His kingdom, and therefore be Lord (which means ruler or master by the way).

2) He had faith in His resurrection. Recall that the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” In this statement, the thief is acknowledging that Jesus will be resurrected. The thief knew that no one survives an execution on a Roman cross, especially one that had been brutally beaten and scourged. In the request to remember him, the thief was taking a risk and exercising some faith which is pleasing to God.

I believe this thief was saved because of his faith in the resurrection and Jesus as Master of a coming Kingdom along with the gift (grace) of God.

I would suggest that Paul writes about a similar pattern for salvation in Romans 10:8-13:

Romans 10:8-13 (HCSB)
8 On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim:
9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.
11 Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame,
12 for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him.
13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

In verse 9, we see that faith in Jesus’ resurrection and acknowledgement of Jesus as being God are what saves a soul from separation from God. The Greek word for Lord in the phrase “Jesus is Lord” is ‘kyrios’ for Master or recognizing that one greater than you has the power and authority to decide. Trusting that Jesus as being Master brings honor to God the Father (John 5:24). The Greek word for Jesus is transliterated ‘Isousâ’ and comes from the Hebrew name ‘Yeshua’ meaning to save and deliver.

In sharing all this, my intention is not to come up with another formula, but rather something I found interesting to reflect on. We are saved by the grace that is a gift of God, and the faith in the resurrection and acknowledgement of Jesus as Master of our lives.

God demonstrates through scripture that He is better and bigger than the formulas and boxes we constrain him to. What formulas and boxes need to be undone for you?

Resurrection

We are going to look at one of the most confounding and embarassing narratives in the Bible, and I’m going to make some suggestions on how we are to understand the story. As a back drop, Abraham has already been promised by God to have numerous offspring through Isaac. These promises came through angels as well as a dramatic experience of covenant in Genesis 15. Abraham has been growing in faith and trust in his relationship with God. Earlier in the scriptures, Abraham is called a friend of God.

Genesis 22:1-18 (ESV)
1After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
15And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

What? This is a crazy story, and if we’re honest we have trouble fathoming God testing Abraham like this. If we take an objective look at this, it appears that God is asking Abraham to murder his son. It’s premeditated. He has intention. He has the knife in his hand. Why would God do this, and what kind of God is this? It seems monstrous on the surface. For those of us with children, it’s really unthinkable. We could intellectually rationalize that this event occurred before the law of Moses was given which said do not murder, and therefore no transgression (violation of a law) was being committed. However, God makes it clear in Genesis, chapter 4, that murder is not OK. Later, in the book of Leviticus, we learn that child sacrifices to a foreign god like Molech are an abomination. We also have scriptures that say God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin, yet that seems exactly what God is asking of Abraham.

The other crazy thing in this narrative is that Abraham doesn’t question God at all. I would ask questions like “Is this you, God?”, “Am I hearing you right?”, “Are you sure about this?”, “Why?”, “Isn’t this the son of promise where our blessings are supposed to come from?” Most of us would ask these questions, even of our spouse or best friend. In the account with Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham bargained with God. Why wouldn’t he do this now, when the son whom he loves and his future offspring are on the line? ‘Olah’ is the Hebrew word used for burnt offering and really means whole burnt offering, but it can also mean to ascend. Did Abraham understand God’s instructions?

I read recently that Abraham’s obedience demonstrated the level of Abraham’s friendship with God, but that doesn’t help me understand it any better. What kind of friend would ask me to murder my son?

Additionally, what about Ishmael? God doesn’t even acknowledge him as being a son in this narrative even though he technically would be a first born. Didn’t Abraham love him, too? He seemed to care for him. I believe that the language is deliberately used to point us to something bigger and more important.

I believe there are three concepts that help us get any kind of resolve in this story.

1) Cultural context.
2) Abraham believed that God could raise him from the dead.
3) The central character of the story is God (not Abraham)

Let’s look at the first concept:

Cultural context

Abraham is in a culture from at least 3500 years ago which seems very foreign to ours. For example, how did Abraham know that he was to use a knife for a burnt offering? The instructions given to Moses in the book of Leviticus wouldn’t come until at least 400 years later. For that matter, how did any of the people before Moses know to bring an offering to God? Culturally, making offerings to appease their gods was common in ancient cultures. Sacrificing children was also common in this age, which is perhaps why we don’t see Abraham arguing with God. He was born into culture, as are we.

Let’s look at the procedure that was prescribed to Moses in Leviticus for preparing a burnt offering (Lev 1:1-9).

1) The offerer was to bring an unblemished male
2) The offerer was to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
3) The offerer was to slaughter the male before the LORD.
4) The priests were to present and sprinkle blood on the four sides of the altar.
5) The offerer was to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces.
6) The priests were to prepare a fire, arrange the wood and pieces.
7) The offerer was to wash the entrails with water.
8) The priests were to burn all of it as a burnt offering as a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

I don’t know about you, but I would venture a guess that most of you haven’t done anything like this. Deer hunting is about as close to this as most of us get. I don’t even like preparing a turkey. This kind of procedure was fairly common to the culture.

As mentioned, ‘olah’ is a Hebrew word for whole burnt offering. How is the burning of animal flesh pleasing to God (it wasn’t bacon)? 🙂 In ancient cultures, animals were provision and a reflection of what you owned. You might say meat was money. This offering was essentially setting their money on fire and watching it burn and go up in smoke. This seems ridiculous to the world, but the kingdom of God is upside down. ‘Olah’ as mentioned, also means to ‘go up.’ In the book of Leviticus, when this burnt offering was made to God, the offerer would “watch the smoke and sparks ascend heavenward and know that God had accepted him as he identified himself with the sacrificial animal.” (Hebrew Word for the Day, Dr. J.D. Watson, p.110).

While our culture is now very different, the matters of the heart remain the same.

The burnt offering showed their love for God. They gave up something of value (essentially their money) for God, and in turn believed that God would accept their sacrifice as an expression of that love.

If you believe and follow Jesus, a new covenant has been presented where we don’t have to slaughter animals anymore to believe that God will accept our sacrifice. Jesus is the only sacrifice needed (by faith) to be acceptable and pleasing to God. Scripture also writes that obedience is better than sacrifice (Jesus was sacrificed once for all time).

That said, there are things we can do in this present age and in light of a new covenant.

‘Qorban’ is the Hebrew word for any general kind of offering (Lev 6:13).

I believe we bring an offering to God whenever we walk in faith, hope, and love. Especially if it costs us something.

Obviously, we can bring an offering to God with how we give (with our money, time, resources, and gifting).

We can love God by how we steward our hearts, how we spend our lives, and our choices with our bodies.

Romans 12:1 (HSCB)
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.

A sacrifice costs us something, but when directed by the spirit, brings God pleasure.

In a cultural context, perhaps God was inviting Abraham into a familiar experience (child sacrifice) to teach him first hand that child sacrifice is not the way any more, and that God will provide the Lamb needed to make atonement.

Secondly, let’s look deeper beyond the culture and the sacrifice. This is really about faith in a resurrection.

Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead.

The writer of Hebrews is speaking to a Jewish audience and writes this:

Hebrews 11:17-19 (ESV)
17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

How do we know that Abraham knew that God could restore Isaac from the dead in the book of Genesis? We don’t, but I would suggest that it is only through Christ, that we see the possibility of a resurrection from this text.

Jesus suggests that Abraham actually was looking forward prophetically to the time of the lamb coming as a substitute.

John 8:56
Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.

In the 1970s there were toys for little kids called “Weebles”. Their tag line was that “weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” If you knocked a weeble over, it would wobble, but bounce right back up. Abraham somehow believed that God would make things right. Abraham had faith that God had resurrection power. Even toward the very end, Abraham is expecting God to provide a lamb in his place. He has to look “up” in order to see it.

One of the characteristics of God that we don’t hear much about any more is that God is a jealous God. He wants relationship with us above everything else. Jesus was angry with the Pharisees because of how difficult they were making it to have any kind of relationship with God. Above the people and things we love, and even above our understanding of the promises He’s made, God wants relationship with us.

Finally, let’s look at the even more profound idea that God is the main character of the story and not Abraham.

The central character of the story is God (not Abraham)

In this story, we will substitute our heavenly Father for Abraham and Jesus for Isaac.

In the Genesis 22 account, Abraham doesn’t finish the slaughter. In the case of God with his son Jesus, he does finish the slaughter, allowing him to be crucified. Rather than just being a burnt offering, Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Through this sacrifice, relationship with man can be restored.

John 1:20 “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”

Abram means exalted father. Abraham roughly means father of a multitude. Our Heavenly Father wanted to move from exalted Father to Father of a multitude.

John 1:12 (ESV)
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Isaac means laughter in Hebrew. I wonder if God the Father had to sacrifice the laughter and mirth He had with His Son in order to redeem mankind from his sin and in three days get it back.

In Genesis 22:2, the echoes of the “only son whom you love,” point to God’s love towards Jesus as revealed in the New Testament (Mark 1:11, Matthew 17:5). God reveals this in the baptism of Jesus (as well as his transfiguration), highlighting his divine nature and the quality of the relationship between them.

Mark 1:11 (NLT)
And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

We know Jesus wasn’t offered up as a burnt offering, but rather for the sins of the world (John 1:29, John 3:16). Additionally, Jesus was placed on an altar in the shape of a cross. Like Isaac, Jesus didn’t open up his mouth to complain (Is 53), and like Jesus, he seems to be innocent. While Jesus was innocent, we aren’t told of any sin that Isaac commited to warrant the death penalty.

Genesis 22:12 – “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me”

It was God’s obedience to fulfill his word. Does God fear God in this context? It’s an interesting concept to think about. We know from Isaiah 11, that Jesus would delight in the fear of the LORD and would even have this as a double portion (Isaiah 11:3).

God, in obedience did not withhold his only son from the slaughter (in the form of a brutal crucifixion) (Gospel accounts, Romans 8:32).

We are blessed because of this obedience and what the sacrifice made possible.

In Christ, the New Testament reveals that we are grafted into being part of Abraham’s seed and part of the blessing.

Galatians 3:29 (HCSB)
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Did Abraham have to sacrifice Isaac to receive this blessing? Studying out the previous chapters in Genesis, the blessing that God had already promised to Abraham was already pronounced, with one exception. The additional blessing reads “And your offspring will possess the gate of his enemies and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” We have these as an additional blessing because of Abraham’s obedience and God’s fulfillment of this blessing through Christ.

We are blessed because of Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to raise his son from the dead. We are blessed because Jesus’ resurrection made a way for us to be grafted in to the seed of Abraham, regardless of lineage.

In Christ, you are blessed. Your family name is blessed because of it. You are blessed because of Abraham and God’s obedience (yes, I know that sounds funny). You have authority over entry points of the enemy (gates). Give thanks for the blessings you have received. Walk in them. Use them for His glory. In realization of the blessings that we have received, we can go and be a blessing to others. That is our calling.

Teach us to see

2 Corinthians 5:14-16
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.

Love does not see the faults and weaknesses of others. If you love and care for someone, one can overlook their faults. You don’t even see them.  The adage ‘love is blind’ has some truth to it.  On the other hand, if you don’t like someone or even hate them, you will have no trouble seeing their faults. In fact, their faults are all that you will see.

I recently coached a volleyball team where one of the players and her mom had taken up an offense with three other players on the team, and had begun labeling them as bullies.  After a particularly difficult match, their judgments and wounds surfaced in the form of anger, tears, and blame. Both the daughter and the mom had been nursing a wound for months and had become bitter. I counseled the mother and daughter to forgive them, but they couldn’t hear me through their shared offense.  Ultimately, they ended up leaving the team as they were unable to forgive.

In seeking to understand the situation, the Holy Spirit took me to this verse.

Hebrews 12:15
15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

Even though I didn’t want to share in their offense, I inadvertently began to see the faults of these three players and began to lose the ability to see their good qualities.  I lost the ability to love them.  In the player and mom airing their judgement of the players as bullies, I became defiled by it.

There is a Hebrew idiom that talks about whether your eye is good or bad (Matthew 6:22-23).

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.
23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness, how deep is that darkness!”

This idiom of contrasting a good eye – ‘ayin tov’ with a bad eye – ‘ayin rah’ applies to someone’s attitude towards others.  A good eye or one that is ‘single’ is one who sees generously.  A good or single eye is an eye which sees the treasure and value in people and does not really ‘see’ their faults.  A bad eye or one that is ‘stingy’ is one who sees critically and sees the faults and makes assessments and judgment of others.

We see this same reference in Proverbs 22:9.

He who has a generous eye will be blessed, For he gives of his bread to the poor.

The reference to a generous eye in Hebrew is the same, ‘ayin tov’, or a good eye.  The eye represents the condition of the heart.

Certainly this refers back to Deuteronomy 15:7-11, which deals with our heart towards those in need.  Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Adonai Jireh (Genesis 22-14) has been unfortunately translated as the ‘God who provides’ instead of the ‘God who will see’.  When God sees our need, He will respond.  In this regard, we are called to be like God.

How will we see?  Will we see a persons’ need and good qualities through a good eye or will we see through a critical lens?

Recently at a spiritual retreat, a good friend of mine shared that “any time, we are walking in judgement of someone, fear, or anger, we have stepped out of love and are walking in darkness.”

I would suggest to you that statement is true, and encourage you to search the scriptures to confirm it.

1 John 1:7
7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

What are the antidotes to seeing in the flesh and making a bitter root judgment?  There are at least two.  Forgiveness and the sober warning not to walk in judgment.

What most of us miss are the words Jesus spoke right after teaching us how to pray.

Matthew 6:14-15
14 “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.
15 But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.”

And

Matthew 7:1-2
1 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.
2 For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

The name Daniel means God is my judge.  Humility is required to let God be judge instead of ourselves.  Without humility, we won’t find favor with God (James 4:6).

The call to each of us is to not see through the eyes of judgment (the flesh), but rather to see generously and see the way that God sees a person and their need.

As an application, I would ask God this question, “How would you like me to see this person in light of their need?”

The one who walks in the light walks in love.

LORD, help us to see the way that you see.

 

The four-part believer

While at a conference recently, I heard a response that those who believe that Yeshua is LORD, are not three-part beings, but four.  This is not what the traditions of men have taught.  I thought I would search the scriptures to see if this were true.

The idea of a four-part being helps make sense of the following text:

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

Why would our spirit need to be sanctified if this was the same thing as Holy Spirit?  No, this text from Paul only makes sense with the idea that everyone is born with a human spirit, but not everyone has the Holy Spirit living inside them.

This transformation happens the moment we accept and believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough for us to be saved (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As a result, a personal prayer transacted in communion might read something like this.  “This is my body, LORD.  I recognize and thank you that I am now part of your body, accepted by you and a part of you.  You live in me as evidence that I have accepted your body, broken for me.”

One of my prayers for many years has been that “I submit my body and soul to my spirit, and I submit my spirit to you, Holy Spirit.  Have your way in me.”

We as transformed beings are four-part beings, body, soul, spirit, and God.  Christ IN you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Let’s look at a passage in the book of Daniel that has been relegated as historical, but that I believe has prophetic symbolism, pointing to a life in Christ.

To set up the story, let’s look at the context and the meaning of the players in Hebrew.

The context of the story is that the Chaldeans were bringing charges against the Jews, and a Babylonian king, named Nebuchadnezzar had made a golden image of himself, demanding that everyone fall down and worship it.  If all the people didn’t bow down and worship the image, the penalty was to be thrown into a fiery furnace.

Daniel’s three friends refused to worship this “god,” and as a result would have to pass through fire.

Daniel – God is my judge (Belteshazzar)
Hananiah – God has favored (Shadrach)
Mishael – Who is what God is, rule of God (Meshach)
Azariah – God has helped (Abednego)

Babylon – means “confusion by mixing”

Like Bablyon, I believe the new pagan names (Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego) were given to Daniel and his friends to cause them to lose their sense of identity and to forget their connection with God.

Like Daniel and his three friends, I believe we are appointed as overseers over chaos to bring God’s Kingdom order, but it may cost us to get there.

23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fell, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?”  “Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king.
25 He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of God.”

The fourth is like a “son of God.”

I believe that this is a prophetic picture of starting as three-part beings and in trusting God to save us, we become four-part beings.  They passed from death to life, trusting in the power of God to resurrect them.

The king ordered that the furnace be made seven times hotter.  Why?  Seven is the number of fullness and completion.  I believe that seven, in this context, shows that this was a complete work.  Jesus taught that our works would be tested, as if by fire.  Only what is of God would survive a trial by fire.  That which is more precious than gold was their faith (1 Peter 1:7).

28 Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent His angel and rescued His servants who trusted in Him. They violated the king’s command and risked their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
29 Therefore I issue a decree that anyone of any people, nation, or language who says anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be torn limb from limb and his house made a garbage dump. For there is no other god who is able to deliver like this.”

I believe Christ was the fourth in the fire.  If Christ is in you, the revealing will convict the world, just like it did to Nebuchadnezzar.